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What to consider before cosmetic surgery abroad

October 2014 saw the tragic news that a 24 year old British woman had passed away whilst undergoing cosmetic surgery in Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok.

The patient stopped breathing after being given general anaesthetic for corrective surgery near her tailbone area. While full details have yet to be released, it is currently alleged that the practitioner who performed the procedure was unqualified.

Cosmetic treatment abroad has fast become a popular option for many Britons; according to WhatClinic.com the number of us travelling abroad for aesthetic work has risen by 109% in the last two years alone. Similarly, research conducted by Confused.com in 2013 discovered that 30% of surveyed Britons who had undergone cosmetic surgery had traveled abroad to do so.


An allure of cheap prices and recovery in the sun is often the deciding factor for those of us who opt for overseas work, but directly proportional to this increase in those travelling is a rise in complications. A study by Leeds University last year uncovered a 16.5% complication rate from those who had returned from cosmetic surgery holidays, and according to BAAPS last year 60% of surgeons reported a 25-35% increase in the number of those seeking correctional surgery or help after treatment in another country.

If treatment abroad is something that appeals to you, we advise you to consider the following questions during your research to get the results you deserve and, more importantly, stay safe:

What legislation does the country have in place to protect you?

In the UK, we have very strict rules for both doctors and clinics. Medical professionals are answerable to both laws and regulatory bodies so that any potential issues can be picked up before they affect you.

Regulation across the rest of the world fluctuates and there is often a distinct lack of it in countries that have an abundance of cheap deals on treatment. Research what rules and regulations are in place in the country you’re considering; are they regularly monitored and, if so, by whom? Is full information available about the clinic available if you request it? And are there any previous instances where the legislation didn’t protect someone else in that country?

What do you know about your surgeon? What qualifications do they have?

All UK plastic surgeons must be on a specialist register held by the GMC (General Medical Council), which is available online to check at www.gmc-uk.org. Members of organisations like BAPRAS will have had full, specialist training, meaning it is easy to obtain confirmation from independent bodies of a surgeon’s experience and qualifications.

Registers and standards abroad differ massively, so you need to do your research. Find out if there are any equivalent bodies or organisations in the country you’ve chosen, or if there is anything you can refer to for independent verification. Ask your surgeon what training and qualifications they have. Any respectable surgeon will not be insulted by this; they’ve worked hard to get to their position, and will be only too pleased to convince you that you are in safe hands.

Something a lot more simple to work out is how well your surgeon and team speak English. In the UK, your clinic must be able to explain to you, in detail, what your treatment entails to ensure you can give proper, informed consent prior to treatment. Likewise, you need to be able to tell your surgeon and team exactly what you want; if you’re having a breast augmentation to go up by one cup size, for example, you don’t want your team to misunderstand and increase it by more.

Most of the time, if you’re having treatment abroad, there is very little opportunity to meet your surgeon before the treatment. You might attend an open event, but this is normally attended by sales representatives or spokesperson who is not medically trained. Without proper consultation, how can the doctor know that the treatment is definitely suitable for you and how can you fully communicate exactly what you need?

What is the clinic’s policy if any complications occur? How will you contact them?

Remember when you’re thousands of miles (and possibly several time zones) away, it’s not so easy to speak to your surgeon about any concerns or problems after your treatment. Very few clinics abroad offer comprehensive aftercare and, while in the UK nearly all clinics will offer follow-up consultations and meetings, it is rare that you will be able to travel to see your surgeon again without incurring extra costs. Ask exactly what aftercare is on offer and ensure you have it confirmed in writing in case you need proof. Do they have a 24-hour medical assistance number or will you be left stranded if any problems arise once you’re back in the UK?

Why is the treatment so cheap?

Cosmetic treatment in the UK can be expensive, but with good reason. Here all surgery is heavily regulated by the Healthcare Commission and General Medical Council, which comes at a cost for both surgeons and clinic owners.

Likewise, the equipment we use in the UK must be of a very high standard. Sometimes ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals on things like breast implants are because the quality of implants used is not acceptable in the UK. The best surgeons have undertaken extensive training which has come at a cost to them; a surgeon’s cost is quite often proportional to their experience. You’re paying for their knowledge and work, not simply to give them more profit.

In the UK BAPRAS members must provide adequate aftercare following a treatment including any stays in hospital, follow-up consultations and further treatment to resolve any problems. This is factored into the price of surgery you receive, but many cheap deals abroad will not have worked it into your costs. Check, check, check and then double check to ensure you know what you are paying for and want to expect.

How will you be travelling back from the country after treatment?

Depending on where you’re travelling, have you fully considered how you’ll be travelling back? The most popular method of transport abroad nowadays is air travel, which is practically essential if you’re travelling outside of Europe. However after any surgery, your risk of a blood clot is much higher than normal. Depending on what type of surgery you will be undertaking, many surgeons recommended at least 7-14 days before flying. Even then, they also recommend walking frequently during the flight and wearing compression garments to decrease your risk. Again, complete trust and knowledge on your doctor will help you with this. Ask them what they recommend about your journey home and how long they suggest. Make sure what they recommend correlates with advice other doctors seem to suggest.

What medical insurance arrangements are there if anything happens?

Most travel insurance companies will not cover any elective treatments you opt for, whether the surgery is in the UK or not. Even those that do, require full information before they approve your cover, so make sure you pick a legitimate provider, with good reviews and a specialty in the industry. Speak to the clinic and find out who they are insured by – do they offer insurance to their patients? Remember that, apart from any life-threatening complications, the NHS will not cover costs for corrective surgeries and you will be left to fund changes for aesthetic reasons on your own.


There are many highly experienced and skilled surgeons based across the world. Just because someone is based abroad doesn’t mean they are fraudulent or inexperienced. However, with the lack of regulation and little information openly available on many surgeons, you should always be extra vigilant and research fully before committing to a country you don’t know well. The genuine professionals will be only too happy to provide you with any proof of their expertise they can and will guide you to verified, independent sources so you can confirm their status.

The Private Clinic

With over 30 years of Harley Street medical expertise behind us we understand you’re an individual, not a number. We believe the best way to achieve the results you want is to work closely with you from your first consultation and continue this care long after your treatment. We have 8 CQC registered clinics across the UK and believe in working with only the most respected professionals to give excellent results and long lasting care.

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