Page last updated at 08:05 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

NHS pays to rectify cosmetic ops

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Breast implant
Thousands of patients head abroad for cosmetic operations

The NHS is having to pick up the tab for cosmetic surgery performed abroad that has gone wrong, doctors say.

The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons said many patients were turning to the health service for follow-up care.

A poll of 203 NHS surgeons found that more than a third knew of cases where complications followed surgery abroad.

The government warned people that the NHS was only there to deal with emergency complications in such cases.

And it urged those thinking about going abroad for operations to be careful.

It is estimated that up to 100,000 people a year are heading abroad for cheap cosmetic surgery such as breast enlargements, tummy tucks and face-lifts.

What may seem like a bargain could cost them their health
Vivienne Nathanson, of the British Medical Association

BAPRAS said the growing demand was being fuelled by the availability of cheap flights, but warned that the trend was leading to problems.

It said its members had seen a range of complications including blood poisoning, wound infections and blood clots, as well as patients who were not happy with the results of the surgery.

And the association warned that the extra work being caused by having to see these patients could end up delaying other NHS work.

It said patients should be made to pay for rectifying treatment except where there was a life life-threatening situation or if the patient was suffering from acute pain.

Complications following UK-based cosmetic surgery is the responsibility of the private clinic.

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BAPRAS spokesman Hamish Laing said the NHS should not be expected to "pick up the pieces" unless the complications were life-threatening.

"There are patients who are having operations they couldn't normally have had on the NHS and we don't think it's right that we should be having to take up resources that should be used for reconstructive plastic surgery in the NHS to sort out these problems," he said.

People should be aware of potential complications of operations abroad and be prepared to pay privately for follow-up surgery, he added.

Risks

But the British Medical Association said it was against patients being barred from NHS care.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics at the BMA, added: "It is essential that patients are warned about the potential risks of any surgery, and the specific risks of managing complications after having surgery overseas.

"What may seem like a bargain could cost them their health."

Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, agreed it would be wrong to withhold treatment.

She said patients needed better information about treatment available abroad.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said it had already made clear that the NHS was only there to deal with emergencies in such cases.

The spokesman added: "People are free to have cosmetic or other private surgery abroad if they wish to.

"However, we strongly advise people to do their research and make sure that they are clear about prices, procedures, recovery times, aftercare and what happens in the event that the treatment goes wrong."

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