Sun, sea and surgery - what could possibly go wrong?

Heather Stephen

If you are thinking of cosmetic surgery it may be tempting to head abroad for the sun and cheaper prices. But Heather Stephen warns  it may cost you more than you bargained for.

Cheap flights and bargain holidays are not the only reasons we hop on a plane and head off to other countries. Now an increasing number of us are going abroad for cosmetic surgery.

According to private healthcare search engine, travel for medical treatment has more than doubled in recent years. And the British Association of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) says 20,000 people jet off from the UK each year for a nip and a tuck.

The rise in demand is hardly surprising when you consider the average nose job costs just over £800 in the Czech Republic compared to up to £4,500 in the UK. But, although there are some world class surgeons practising in other countries, different standards of regulation around the world means you can’t always be assured you are in safe hands.

Two out of five British plastic surgeons surveyed this year by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPs) said they had seen patients with problems from cosmetic surgery abroad.

And in a recent press release it states that the cost of botched jobs abroad can cost a single NHS trust alone “an average £5,000 per patient – excluding imaging, medication or any outpatient appointments – with hospital stays ranging anywhere from one to 19 days.”

So it’s not surprising that the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) advises people to avoid going abroad for cosmetic surgery.



‘Of course, there are good surgeons in other countries and many patients come home without any problems,’ says BAPRAS spokesman Naveen Cavale. ‘But if things go wrong it may be more difficult to see your doctor and the NHS can end up picking up the bill.’

Mr Cavale, who works as a plastic surgeon privately and for the NHS, says he has seen a growing number of patients coming to his practice at King’s College Hospital, London, with complications from overseas surgery.

‘Over the last four years I have seen 24 patients with these issues with 14 in the last year alone so the problem is increasing.’ And he says: ‘It can cost upwards of £20,000 to treat a patient who become seriously ill after surgery and that is not insignificant.’

Beauty tourism – a dangerous gamble…

Dr Paul Charlson, President of the British College of Aesthetic Medicine, says beauty tourism can be a dangerous gamble as standards may be lower in other countries.

‘I can understand why people might opt for overseas cosmetic surgery when it is often half the price but there is an increased risk and the quality of the surgery varies worldwide,’ he says. ‘In the UK there are very tight controls on cleanliness and standards of surgery which might not apply in other countries and what happens if you have complications later?

‘A lady I am aware of had liposuction and a tummy tuck in a private hospital abroad which became infected and she ended up being treated by the NHS costing the State several thousand pounds.’

President of the UK Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (UKAAPS) Professor James Frame says travelling to other countries can be a viable option for surgical patients but argues there are so many issues involved that it might not be worth the trip.

‘Going abroad can be a cheap way to have an operation but is it really a cost saver if you have to pay to sort out the complications later?’ – Professor Frame

Professor Frame, chaired the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons’ (ISAPS) medical procedures abroad committee for four years and helped develop guidelines for choosing treatment’s overseas and says, for many, the for surgery ends in disappointment and ends up costing more than you bargained for.

‘Going abroad can be a cheap way to have an operation but is it really a cost saver if you have to pay to sort out the complications later?’ he says. ‘It sounds attractive to think you can combine surgery with a holiday but you are not going to be able to enjoy yourself and relax when you have just had an operation.’

Professor Frame says up to 30 per cent of people who have overseas cosmetic surgery develop complications. The NHS has to treat any infection or acute wound problems after surgery but patients have to foot the bill to correct poor cosmetic surgery results.

He says very often overseas clinics have insufficient insurance to put right their problems and if patients try to sue the clinics it is extremely complex and is often unsuccessful. He advises having high risk procedures such as nose jobs, tummy tucks and breast reduction in the UK and says if you decide to travel for surgery you should check your surgeon is properly qualified and ask a wide ranging series of questions, including information about the possible complications and risks and whether you can return to the clinic if something goes wrong.



If you decide to go ahead with overseas surgery ISAPS recommends you choose one of their members as all are certified by the national plastic surgery society in their country and properly qualified. The association suggests you ask to speak to UK patients who have had similar procedures and to only deal with clinics whose staff speak fluent English so they can answer your questions and understand your concerns.

Ask if your surgeon uses the World Health Organisation surgical safety checklist developed to reduce surgical complications and deaths from surgery

And talk to your surgeon about:

  • risks,
  • recovery time and
  • potential scarring.

They should discuss your expectations of the procedure to make sure they are realistic and should conduct a medical screening to establish whether you are at risk for complications.

And don’t forget most standard travel insurance will not cover the costs if anything goes wrong with your surgery so take out a medical complication insurance policy to foot the bill for corrective treatment.

Professor Frame is not against patients going abroad for treatment but he advises doing thorough research before flying out for a nip and tuck. ‘Too often surgeons and clinics are more about what they can get out of the patient rather than what they can do for you,’ he says. ‘There are some very good surgeons abroad but it is hard to know whether you are choosing a safe practitioner when travelling to a different country.’

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