‘Facelift holidays’ on the rise

A third of British residents who opt to pay for cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance do so abroad, research has shown.

A study carried out by confused.com has discovered that we are practically a nation of cosmetic surgery tourists, with many of us choosing to get lower-cost elective surgery abroad.

Tourists travelling to other countries with the specific intent on using the medical healthcare system in order to get elective surgery are known as cosmetic surgery tourists. Many head to the opposite side of Europe to get the treatment that they want – the Czech Republic is popular with those seeking weight loss treatment because the NHS queues are too long, and Belgium is big for those wanting breast augmentation, Poland is popular for those wanting tummy tucks and Budapest do cheaper dental work.

Thailand is the leader of medical tourism destinations, earning a huge £2.32 billion a year through tourists seeking cheap and easy procedures. In 2013, 26.5 million people visited Thailand – 2.5 million visited purely for medical reasons, and this number has been steadily increasing at an average of 15% a year over the past ten years. Other countries such as Dubai, Costa Rica and south China have also reported staggering rises to the number of overseas patients seeking cosmetic treatments.

A quarter of cosmetic surgery tourists went overseas because they said they could not afford to have the procedure done back home in the UK. Others claimed that they opted to have their procedure carried out abroad so that they could combine it with a holiday.

Although most cases end up with the traveller thinking they got a good deal for the results they received, there are cases where things go wrong. 16.5% of cosmetic surgery travellers said that they had experienced complications and 8.7% had to have further treatment for things like infections when they returned home – revealing the risk that having surgery in an unknown private hospital in another country holds.

Despite the heightened risk of travelling abroad to a foreign clinic for a medical procedure, only 14 per cent of patients decided to notify their doctor of their travel intentions before they departed the UK.

Cosmetic surgery is a significant slice of the medical tourism market, with over 42% of medical tourists specifically seeking cosmetic surgery procedures such as breast augmentations, facelifts, tummy tucks and nose jobs abroad. Horror stories are rampant, and many people end up scarred, deformed and abandoned in hospitals where no one speaks their language.

“I’m alarmed when it is almost advertised as a holiday, when they use the word tourism. Laying by the pool in the sun, drinking cocktails is terrible for surgery – it makes you more prone of dehydration, DVT’s and swelling.” said Dr Rizk, a surgeon based in Sydney.

Tourists who are travelling specifically to receive medical treatment are not covered under a travel insurance policy. Travelling abroad specifically to put yourself at heightened risk, especially when you are able to have the procedure done back at home in the UK where medical facilities and professionals are often of a much higher quality, is often seen as a risk not worth insuring. Medical tourism is generally discouraged throughout most industries.

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