Health Which? reveals the ugly side of cosmetic surgery

An investigation by Consumers’ Association’s magazine Health Which? today (8 October 2002) into private cosmetic surgery has found clinics agreeing to unsuitable surgery and failing to provide adequate information about the risks involved.

It is estimated around 65,000 to 75,000 cosmetic surgery procedures are carried out each year in the UK. However, no one knows who carries them out or how good the outcomes are.

Health Which? sent two actors with hidden recording equipment to 21 appointments at private cosmetic surgery clinics. Three highly experienced surgeons gave their verdicts on the visits. We found:

  • Discounts offered if patients agree to more than one procedure;
  • Surgeons were often vague about their expertise;
  • Unqualified “patient co-ordinators” conducting consultations;
  • Poor standards of medical history taking by many surgeons;
  • Some surgeons skirting over the potential risks of surgery;
  • Wrong information being given out by a number of clinics.

Our investigation also found surgeons prepared to perform unsuitable cosmetic procedures. For example, one actor inquired about surgery to reduce the size of his nose (rhinoplasty). One of our expert panel of surgeons, with 30 years experience in rhinoplasty, confirmed the actors nose was well proportioned with his face and he did not need cosmetic surgery.

Only two of the clinics investigated turned our actor away as unsuitable. The other eight found different reasons why surgery was appropriate.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, together with other surgical organisations, says the public is still at risk from unqualified practitioners, despite a new system of regulation for private health care introduced by the Department of Health.

No recognised standard of training for cosmetic surgery exist, though it is hoped with the establishment of the Cosmetic Surgery Interspeciality Committee this will change.

Health Which? also examined the worrying trend of companies offering surgery abroad. Researchers examined deals offering surgery in Poland, South Africa and Cyprus.

Numerous potential problems were identified, including: not meeting the surgeon until arrival, “exclusion of liability” clauses, and the lack of comprehensive aftercare.

Health Which? is calling for a single register of approved cosmetic surgeons and for the role of “patient co-ordinators” to be restricted – they should not be providing explanations of procedures, the risks or taking medical histories.

Sue Freeman, Managing Editor of Health Which?, said: “Cosmetic surgery remains a bit of a lottery. Patients need clear information about the risks involved and the qualifications of those carrying out operations. Our investigation showed this was severely lacking in many cases”

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