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As cosmetic surgery has grown in popularity and cultural prominence in recent years, so too has the number of people travelling overseas with the intention of undergoing a range of procedures. This has been a rising trend for some time, with thousands of Britons booking flights abroad each year in search of cosmetic surgery on a reduced price tag.

However, people engaging in this type of medical tourism are often unaware of the numerous risks associated with going abroad for surgery. In recent months, numerous stories have appeared in the news about Brits who have suffered harmful or even fatal consequences as a result of cosmetic surgeries, such as the Brazilian Bum Lift, going wrong.

While it’s true that every medical procedure carries a degree of risk, the fact remains that getting surgery overseas poses its own unique dangers - all of which need to be considered very carefully before making a decision.

Why are people going abroad for surgery?

Usually, the reasons for travelling overseas for surgery are straightforward - simply put, it’s often much more affordable to do so than it would be in the UK.

Since most cosmetic procedures are elective and therefore not easily obtainable via the NHS, people looking for plastic surgery for aesthetic reasons have to turn to private treatment, which can come with significant costs. Figures from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) suggest that going abroad can reduce the cost of treatment by 40 to 80 per cent, depending on the procedure and the country.

Where are the most overseas popular destinations for getting cosmetic surgery?

Because undergoing surgery in western European nations like Spain and Germany is unlikely to offer significant savings, most people looking overseas for low-cost treatment tend to travel further afield. Eastern Europe is proving particularly popular in this regard, with countries like Turkey, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all seeing growth as cosmetic surgery destinations.

South America has also developed a reputation as a medical tourism hub, including nations such as Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, while certain Asian countries - including India and Thailand - are also used often.

What are the risks?

Getting cosmetic surgery abroad may offer short-term savings, but the number of unique risks that come with this treatment approach mean that patients often end up paying in other, more serious ways:

  • Variable standards: one of the reasons why medical treatment is more expensive in the UK is because of the high standard that British practitioners are held to, and the costs associated with gaining the proper accreditation within a strictly regulated system. Most other nations apply similarly high standards of practice - but when you’re in an unfamiliar country and culture, it can be much harder to know which clinics or doctors to trust. This puts patients at risk of finding themselves at the mercy of a practitioner willing to perform risky surgical procedures in substandard facilities.
  • Language barriers: clear, open communication between the patient and the surgeon as an absolutely essential requirement for ensuring the treatment is safe and suitable for the individual in question. This can be much harder to achieve when dealing with a doctor who doesn’t speak English, even if the professional is otherwise highly competent. Moreover, this language barrier also makes it difficult for the patient to check up on the surgeon’s credentials and terms of service.
  • Travel complications: many medical tourists forget that long-distance travel in the immediate aftermath of a major surgery is potentially highly dangerous. Flying within a week or so of a cosmetic procedure greatly increases the person’s chances of blood clots, which can result in deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism, which can ultimately be fatal.
  • The lack of a safety net: Undergoing a major operation abroad often makes it difficult to know what to do if the surgery goes wrong. You may be unable to return to the clinic that administered your care, or be unaware of who to turn to if you want to lodge an official complaint. There’s even a risk of the surgery invalidating your travel insurance, which could leave you in serious trouble without any support.

Is it really worth taking the chance?

Naturally, there are a number of precautions people can take to minimise the risks associated with undergoing cosmetic surgery abroad. In a best-case scenario, patients should thoroughly research both the procedure and the practitioner they have chosen, taking the time to check the surgeon’s credentials and carefully talk through the risks of the surgery, just as they would in the UK.

They should also make sure their travel plans and documents account for all of their potential medical needs, and that they have a clear plan of action in place in case anything goes wrong - reading up on the expert advice of organisations like ISAPS and the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAAPS) can help with this.

However, for many, the potential pitfalls associated with overseas cosmetic surgery may ultimately come to outweigh the advantages. Patients undergoing a major procedure of this kind deserve to have full confidence in the medical care they receive - and the risks inherent to medical tourism mean that this isn’t always possible.

To learn more on this subject, read our guide on how to find a safe cosmetic surgeon in the UK. Alternatively, if you have experienced problems following surgery as a result of clinical negligence, get in touch with us to see if you have a case for compensation. Call 0808 252 7177 or request a callback by completing our contact form.

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