Learning from the medical profession in crisis communications

Recently the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) have come under criticism for apparently using a material found in mattresses in their breast implants. The French authorities decided to advise that patients have the implants removed immediately as they were in danger of them bursting. The rumours quickly sailed across the channel with 40,000 women in the UK being affected and it caused a media frenzy. Conflicting advice left thousands of customers confused and panicking that they were in danger. In the immediate aftermath of a crisis it is important that you try and save some of your reputation by dealing with it clearly and efficiently, this is one of the key things that we teach in our media crisis training.

There was a debate about who would foot the bill and the NHS said they will remove and replace implants that were affected. However not all patients that went privately have had the same help. Women who used the firms Transform, the Harley Medical Group and Surgicare have been informed that they will not be offered free replacement despite the government reminding them that they have a moral obligation to their customers.

Pregnant Asha Rama-Rabone has been a victim of the confusion “Nobody seems to know what the risks are. I’m watching the news for new revelations each day but different experts keep saying different things. It is a total nightmare.”

The Royal College of Surgeons has produced a document in an attempt to clear up confusion. Consultant plastic surgeon Tim Goodacre, head of professional standards at BAPRAS, said: “It has been a distressing time for all the women caught up in the PIP breast implant issue. We hope this comprehensive guidance, for both patients and healthcare professionals, will ensure we can conclude this effectively and with compassion. We must now look at how cosmetic products and interventions are regulated in the UK more broadly so that we can avoid a repeat of this scenario.”

Women seeking advice have had to wait weeks for guidance. The Independent Healthcare Advisory Services (IHAS) director Sally Taber says, “With the current government position remaining unclear, patients want to know the timeline for the further investigations into PIP implants by the MHRA.”. There is now a government review taking place into the PIP crisis led by Sir Bruce Keogh. It has been suggested that a new insurance scheme (like we have for travel insurance) could come in to prevent such a panic happening again “One of the things my review will be looking at will be… something like the Abta arrangement, which means that when a company runs into trouble for whatever reason, the consumer is covered.”

It seems that the unclear guidelines from the professionals at the start caused worry and confusion to thousands and this stress would’ve been avoided had they got some crisis management in place. Private surgeries will now have a lot of negative feelings towards them and will no doubt feel the blow. So get prepared and invest in some crisis management – you don’t have a crystal ball so get a good plan behind you.

Written by Megan – www.bluewoodtraining.co.uk – January 2012

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