Everything has a price.
And when it comes to cheap cosmetic surgery performed abroad, it’s the taxpayer who ultimately foots the million-pound bill.
Thousands of Brits flock to destinations like Turkey each year for low-cost tummy tucks, boob jobs and butt lifts, driven by the desire to look as skinny and sexy as their favorite celebrities or reality TV stars.
While many return with a few extra pounds in their pocket after saving thousands by choosing to go under the knife abroad, some end up paying up to £30,000 for surgical corrections.
In the most serious cases where urgent care is needed, the NHS – already short of valuable resources – ends up footing the bill.
Removing dead tissue from improperly cleaned wounds, correcting poor sutures and even removing surgical items such as latex gloves left in patients’ bodies are just some of the problems British surgeons have had to correct over the past decade .
Both the NHS and British cosmetic surgeons are increasingly concerned that healthcare is being used to subsidize the poor aftercare of cheap surgery offered abroad.
The NHS itself does not record the number of corrective procedures it performs on Britons undergoing surgery abroad each year.
UK surgeons are increasingly concerned that the NHS is helping to subsidize poor care abroad, with the bill costing taxpayers an estimated £4.8 million over the past four years
But an audit by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), which has many healthcare members, revealed that 82 patients would require NHS follow-up care following surgery abroad in 2021.
This was a 44 per cent increase on the previous year – but this could be an outlier due to Covid travel restrictions imposed in 2020.
The actual number of patients is likely to be in the hundreds, as some patients will be treated by non-BAAPS members.
BAAPS estimated the cost to the NHS of these corrective procedures per patient at around £15,000, covering aspects of the procedure such as staff time and medicines such as anaesthesia.
This brings the 2021 bill for corrective treatment on the ailing NHS to around £1.2 million, campaigners estimate.
In total, BAAPS members have seen 324 patients needing surgery after returning to the UK over the past four years, costing the NHS a whopping £4.8 million.
But some cosmetic procedures can cost well over £15,000 to fix, including the infamous Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL).
In a BBL, fat is injected into the buttocks from elsewhere in the body to give them a larger, rounder shape, mimicking the pronounced back of the buttocks. Kim Kardashian and rapper Cardi B.
BBLs are notorious for being one of the most dangerous types of cosmetic surgery, with a mortality rate much higher than other procedures due to the danger of the injected fat entering the bloodstream and causing a potentially fatal blockage.
BAAPS previously reported an incident in 2018 where a patient with a BBL abroad contracted a flesh-eating bacterial infection that cost the NHS an estimated £47,000 to treat.
The organisation’s president, Dr Mary O’Brien, said victims of bad operations abroad often had little chance of having problems solved abroad and were therefore dependent on the NHS or had to pay privately.
‘The surgeons involved in these schemes do not have work permits nor are they registered in the UK, and it is unlikely that there will be an opportunity to have revision surgery.’
She also told MailOnline that the nature of how surgery is performed in popular cosmetic procedure hotspots such as Turkey meant that surgical complications were more likely.
This is because patients undergo less vigorous vetting processes before surgery and patients are not followed up as extensively. For example, patients in the UK may be turned away due to concerns about their mental state.
“Complications and poor outcomes are more common in patients who are poorly selected both physically and psychologically,” she said.
“Careful follow-up is necessary after a surgical procedure so that any minor complications that may arise can be addressed early before they develop into a much more serious situation.”
Dr. O’Brien said infections were just one example of these complications that could be nipped in the bud by an attentive surgeon.
“If diagnosed and treated early, very serious and sometimes life-threatening infections can be prevented,” she said.
‘This is just one type of complication that British surgeons have faced, which has a huge cost to the patient both physically and psychologically and financially to the NHS.’
She added that another major area of risk is patients being put on planes home far too soon after surgery, putting them at risk for dangerous blood clots.
Blood clots are a risk after major surgery, but this is exacerbated by flying because people sit for long periods of time and become dehydrated from the recirculated air in the plane.
In general, Dr O’Brien said “cheap” cosmetic surgery abroad could end up costing a lot more than you save.
“There is a lack of transparency about surgical training, type of facility, care pathways and insurance arrangements when patients choose to have surgery abroad. There are no safeguards,” she said.
“It is a combination of multiple factors that contribute to the devastating consequences some patients and their families may face as a result of chasing the lure of ‘cheap’ surgeries abroad.
‘Unfortunately it often turns out to be more expensive and not just in a financial sense.’