In this case, British dentists have been warned against using a cheap, hand-held x-ray machine on their patients because they pose a significant health risk.
According to the BBC, the imported machines, known as the Tianjie Dental Falcon, expose "users and patients to 10 times the normal level of radiation, increasing their risks of cancer and organ damage."
Doctors and dentists in such chronically underfunded, government-run health care systems are always looking for ways to curb costs. In this case, it seems as though one cost-cutting measure has been hurting the very patients they were caring for. But other bureaucrats from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency are now asking NHS, as well as private dentists, to get rid of the devices.
Entire skull irradiated
In assessing the damage so far, officials have had to admit they don't know how many patients have been exposed to the additional risk. So far, 13 of the Chinese-made devices have been seized at a distribution center. Most were sold on Internet sites including eBay, the BBC said. At least one dental surgery office was found to be using the dangerous device.
Officials discovered the devices were emitting excessive radiation during emergency testing of the product by the Health Protection Agency, as well as scientists at King's College Hospital in London. There, officials found that the devices contained insufficient lead shielding inside of them to protect both dentists andpatients from excessive radiation exposure.
In addition, officials found that the hand-held x-ray's beam is too wide, meaning a patient's entire skull and brain are needlessly exposed to the additional radiation, not just their teeth.
Further, the device poses an electrical hazard because it comes with a European-style electrical plug and travel adapter not compatible for the United Kingdom's power system. So, besides being a major fire hazard, the device also could give dentists and patients a dangerous shock.
"Over time someone operating this machine, such as a dental assistant, would be exposed to unacceptable levels of accumulated radiation and this would have an increased risk to their health," said Donald Emerton, a scientist who tested the device.
"I certainly wouldn't want someone to use this piece of equipment to take an X-ray of me," he told the BBC.
The MHRA said it believes the UK's only distributor of the machines must be shuttered, but said investigations are ongoing to make sure no more of them can be sold and used there.
The agency said issues with the devices first came to light around June. Officials said it wasn't clear how many of them are in circulation.
The BBC said officials with the device's manufacturer, Zhengzhou Tianjie Electronic Equipment Co., could not be reached for comment.
Cash-strapped government systems force providers into buying cheap equipment
The devices sell for about ?200, or about $320; other hand-held dental x-ray devices for sale in the UK and around the world can cost as much as ?4,000 (about $6,500).
"It's vital that dentists and dental staff do not buy these dental X-ray machines from eBay or other websites because they are not approved and not safe for dentists or patients," said Bruce Petrie, of the MHRA's Medical Devices Enforcement Team.
"We are working with eBay and other governments to ensure dentists and patients are protected," Petrie added.
Barry Cockcroft, England's chief dental officer, added, "It is vitally important that when buying equipment, dentists make sure it is appropriate and safe for use. I would urge all dental professionals to be cautious of seemingly cheap devices which may not be fit for purpose and potentially dangerous."
As healthcare costs soar, government-run systems are forced to cut costs anyway they can, even if it means buying the cheapest, most dangerous equipment out there.