As we have all seen, or read, in the news there is somewhat of a controversy about PIP breast implants which use industrial grade silicon gel, that is not suitable for humans, which nevertheless has been approved and used. Now a private company which provides NHS services has used this product to a greater extent than anyone else and now seeks to blame the government for approving it. I think this is a good opportunity to discuss repsonsibility within the context of regulated products.
I find it hard to be convinced that the government should be blamed for a private company’s decision to use these products, despite them being approved.
Firstly, while governmental approval is all well and good it is not perfect and a correct decision made at one time can be found to be incorrect upon new evidence. How a government responds to this change is important and they should be held accountable. But at the time the decision was made it is hard to see where the government went wrong. And if they did not then why should they be held liable for the cost? This seems particularly true when the organisation is a private profit driven company, rather than the NHS. In the case of the NHS the government can easily step in, and should be responsible because they NHS decision to use this product could be subject to review.
The case is much more difficult with a private company, which while relying on the approval, did not have to use that product at all. It was entirely their decision and in accordance with a ‘free’ market they should be responsible for their conduct. Of course they could rely on governmental approval to protect themselves from compensation or other actions, but they should not be able to us it to offload the cost of replacement. The reason for this, I think, is that they have a duty to their patients/customers and if a product is found to be faulty they have obligations to remedy the matter. They can sue the manufacturers if they wish, but the patients are their responsibility.
Additionally Richard Horton in the article linked above, argues that this will be a continuing feature of privatisation of the NHS.