Along with many others I tuned into Newsnight last night for the opportunity to watch Katie Price talking to Jeremy Paxman about her breasts. I was intrigued by the whole concept and probably my inner Benny Hill was rearing it's ugly head.
This was the bit of the show dealing with breast implants supplied by the French company PIP which stopped trading in 2010 after it was found to be using industrial grade rather than medical grade silicon. The implants are thought to be more prone to rupture causing health problems for the women involved. I say women because that's all we really hear about in the news, I am fairly sure that I read somewhere that PIP also provided testicle implants etc that would have been implanted into men and presumably would cause the same problem. I'm not sure why we're just hearing about the women... Is it that the media has seized on the titillation value of being able to talk about women's breasts in the name of real news?
Which brings me back to Newsnight. Although let me just explain something first which should demonstrate why I was so angry with Paxman from the second he opened his mouth!
I'm a sexual health nurse and I spend my working life discussing with complete strangers the intimate details of their sex lives. One of the cornerstones of the way I go about this is to only ask questions that are relevant to the care I am trying to provide. I may need to know what kind of sex someone has had but I don't need to know if it was on the kitchen table or not. I am very well aware that there is a world of difference between being a journalist and being a clap nurse but I think there are certain situations where asking yourself "is this question relevant" can be applied to both professions. So last night I was quite surprised to hear Paxman welcome a group of women who have PIP implants to the studio and the first thing he asked of a couple of them was why they decided to have implants in the first place.
Why women decide to have implants (and other cosmetic surgery) is a very valid question to ask that says a lot about our society and it's obsession with youth but in this instance it had no meaning to it apart from to make Paxmen look slightly yet uncomfortably pervy. The issue here is that women have had implants given to them which give them a greater risk of related health problems than they were led to believe. Thousands of women in this country are now being left in limbo with no definite plan in place to let them have their implants replaced. This is made more worrying for them because other countries in Europe are doing so. I worry as well that we are inclined to see some women as more deserving of sympathy- if they had implants following a mastectomy rather than to improve the size, shape, bounce or whatever of their breasts. It's slightly gross the way we like to judge individuals in this way.
I won't even go into how appalling it is that many private clinics are liquidising then reforming under a new name to avoid their responsibility in replacing the faulty implants they inserted. The NHS is offering to remove implants found to be faulty but not to replace them and I'm not sure where I stand on this.
That faulty implants that are a risk to a women's health or possibly life should be removed on the NHS goes without saying. If you say not then we're back in the argument of do we treat illnesses caused by lifestyle options: the obese, diabetics, smokers, drug users, people who drive too fast and wrap their car round a tree, christ, we could even include pregnant women! But do we replace the implants? Can the over stretched NHS afford to mop up a problem they didn't cause? Can they really offer to remove a women's implants, stitch them up and leave them to it? Surely if they have an operating theatre already booked up, fully staffed and the women under anaesthetic with the right incisions already made the added cost of popping a couple of new implants in isn't going to be that great?
Caitlin Moran said, then quickly retracted, on twitter last night, that if a woman can afford implants for vanity reasons can she not fork out to have them replaced if it might save her life? Like her I initially agreed with this idea then changed my mind. I think what we can all agree on that this is an argument that could go on and on and I'm not sure where I stand, although I am leaning towards replacing on the NHS if the private clinics refuse. And some tougher measures for clinics who shirk their responsibilities to their patients, although can we really expect more from profit driven private health care?
In comparison to the clunky and awkward questioning from Paxman, Price was actually excellent and spoke about her experiences very well. I was appalled to hear that before she had her first breast operation The Sun held a poll to see if their readers thought she should have it done. Nice. But again, another kettle of fish altogether.