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Cosmetic tourism is burdening the NHS

More than 200 patients sought help from NHS last year for botched ops

OnMedica Staff

Wednesday, 03 December 2008

One in four plastic surgeons had to treat patients with complications related to cosmetic surgery carried out abroad as part of their NHS work last year.

Research published today by the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) reveals that 23% of its members did NHS work for complications related to cosmetic surgery performed outside of the UK during 2007.

The association has warned that as well as risking their health patients travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery are also burdening the NHS with their follow up care and taking resources away from other  patients.

In 2007, plastic surgeons saw at least 208 patients across the UK for complications following cosmetic surgery abroad. The operations the patients were most likely to have had were breast enlargement followed by abdominoplasty, breast reduction and face or neck lift.

Approximately three quarters of patients had complications that required treatment. Of these, 26% had to have emergency surgery, 31% opted to have elective surgery to rectify the problem, 33% had non-surgical treatment as an out-patient and 8% of patients had non-surgical treatment as an in-patient.

While responsibility for aftercare for cosmetic surgery carried out privately in the UK lies with the plastic surgeon conducting the procedure, BAPRAS highlighted that there is no clear NHS policy on acute complications or elective revisions of procedures carried out abroad. This means patients returning from cosmetic surgery abroad often look to the NHS to provide aftercare, which inevitably takes resources away from other patients.

BAPRAS warned that as cosmetic tourism increases, waiting times for other plastic surgery procedures in cancer, trauma and elective surgery are likely to increase.

Anthony Armstrong, a consultant plastic surgeon and chair of BAPRAS’ clinical effectiveness committee, said: “Cosmetic operations involve major surgery. Anyone considering cosmetic surgery abroad must make sure they are fully aware of the potential complications that can occur and consider how these will be dealt with.

"They should not assume that the NHS will pick up the pieces and, they may find themselves having to pay privately for follow-up surgery here.”

In addition to complication related to the cosmetic surgery, patients travelling abroad will also have an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism when flying back shortly after having a procedure.

BAPRAS is calling on the Department of Health to issue guidance to NHS trusts on the treatment of patients referred to the NHS with complications following cosmetic surgery abroad.

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