As product recalls go, the current problems with PIP breast implants are pretty much a perfect storm:
- There is a perceived risk of serious harm to large numbers of people but the scientific evidence is, as yet, inconclusive;
- Responsibilities are dispersed across a complex, international network of actors including the manufacturer, governments, regulators, the NHS and, crucially, the clinics that actually performed the operations; and
- The situation has to be managed in the full glare of the media spotlight.
Unsurprisingly this has resulted in a number of different responses from the clinics involved. At one end of the spectrum, organisations such as Nuffield Health, Spire Healthcare and BMI Hospitals have given strong assurances that they will continue to provide whatever support patients require. Unfortunately though, these providers only account for a small proportion of the operations performed. In stark contrast, the 4 providers who are believed to account for 60% of use of the PIP implants have been much more equivocal about what their patients can expect. Indeed one of them, Transform, has taken a very aggressive stance saying “The agency [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] must bear responsibility for the current situation.”
In any potential product recall situation, organisations must balance the immediate cost of the recall against the potential long-term costs, particularly reputational damage, of being too slow to react. There is no magic solution to this question and only time will tell what the long-term effect will be on each provider in this particular case. What is beyond doubt though, is the need for each provider to be communicating effectively with anxious patients to ensure that they receive the information and reassurance that they need; and there are already signs that this is not happening in all cases.