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Cosmetic surgery tourism remains a risky adventure

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Research from Leeds University suggests that a growing number of people are travelling abroad for cheaper cosmetic surgery.

People taking up this so-called cosmetic surgery tourism option are by no means body image obsessed or wealthy, but are travelling abroad for cosmetic procedures because they did not think it was appropriate to approach the NHS or the cost of the operation if done privately in the UK was simply beyond their modest means. 

By going to the Czech Republic, Tunisia or Poland for an elective cosmetic procedure, you will pay about half the price of the equivalent private surgery in the UK, even with flights and accommodation included. Most British cosmetic surgery tourists go to the Czech Republic for weight loss treatments such as gastric banding,  Belgium for breast augmentation, Poland for tummy tucks and  Budapest for teeth and dental work.

The Leeds University research shows they make their choice not by scrutinising a surgeon’s academic credentials and qualifications, but simply by word of mouth recommendation from friends, relying on assurances of competence given by agents who organise such trips, or looking at comments and 'before and after pictures' on Internet forums and Facebook groups.  However, when things do go wrong – and they can go spectacularly wrong - there are very limited options for legal redress available to those who travel abroad for surgery.

The Leeds researchers interviewed patients surgeons and travel agents.  103 patients gave detailed accounts of their experiences and of those, 16.5% said they suffered complications and 8.7% needed further treatment for post-operative infections when they got home.  Many of those complications are potentially life-threatening and of course it’s the NHS that picks up the pieces because the victim cannot afford to return to the country and surgeon where the operation was carried out.

If problems are severe enough to warrant a compensation claim for a cosmetic procedure that has gone wrong, cosmetic surgery tourists have no protection and no possible route for compensation under UK law.  They would have to pursue any legal action in the country in which the operation took place, using local lawyers and dealing with an entirely alien funding regime, jurisdiction and legal process that could prove expensive, frustrating, confusing and ultimately unsuccessful.

Rose Donoghue, a partner who heads up Shoosmiths Shoosmiths’s serious personal injury practice, urges anyone contemplating going abroad for cosmetic surgery to think twice before doing so:

"To be frank, my advice would be don’t do it as you will forced back to the NHS in any event to rectify any damage done.  Staying in the UK generally means care by medical professionals whose motivation is your own medical best interests rather than any financial consideration.”

 “You will also benefit from the full protection of law if there are any problems.  Any possible cost saving in having such surgery abroad is not worth the very real risk that, if something does go wrong, you will have difficulty in getting it rectified quickly and very little prospect of gaining any compensation for your suffering.”

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