There is nothing new about medical tourism as people have always trekked to faraway places promising springs of eternal youth or rejuvenating mud baths.
In the past, tourist patients sought specialist treatments and advanced technologies, but the recent credit crunch has prompted a new wave of travellers seeking cut price cosmetic surgery.
Typically Americans go south to Mexico, Australians fly west into Asia and Brits look east into Europe, notably Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic for breast work. Cosmetic tourism is usually advertised as a holiday, but it is important to see through the marketing tactics for what it actually is: a package deal including flights, accommodation and surgery. You are unable to indulge in any of the normal holiday activities such as sunbathing, swimming, drinking, exercise or long excursions, and crucial elements of the procedure, like consultation and after-care, are commonly missing.
Although elective, a cosmetic procedure is still real surgery and comes with all the associated risks. Adding the effects of travel into the mix only increases the chance of infection, swelling, pulmonary embolism, blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. Despite this extra danger, about a third of Brits opting for cosmetic surgery choose to travel abroad. Figures vary, but studies show that up to half are unhappy with the results and one in five require further treatment once they return home.
You would think the horror stories reported in the press would be enough to put anyone off. The Mirror interviewed Tanya Bennett: she flew to Belgium to increase her breasts from 32A to 32D, but came back with an infection which meant an emergency implant removal and lopsided boobs, one large, one small. The NHS is understandably a bit miffed at having to pick up the pieces after these hatchet jobs abroad.
The Nottingham Post describes the tale of a local lass, Claire Rigley, who went to Prague for breast surgery after she lost a lot of weight, to give her smaller, fuller boobs. The operation was not much cheaper than a private clinic in the UK once she added flights and hotel costs, but it was available sooner. The price for speed however was infection, dead skin, holes in her breasts and a lost nipple. She finally had corrective surgery five years later as part of a TV documentary on botched operations, but was emotionally traumatised by the experience.
The exposés are endless, yet people desperate for a change still take their chances. If you are going to risk a cheap deal abroad, then please at least do your homework. Research the procedure and make yourself aware of the potential complications. Search for a surgeon with medical accreditations and ask for references from past patients. Notify your GP of the procedure before travelling and visit them on your return for a check up. Talk to your travel insurance company to alert them of your plans and check that you are covered in case anything goes wrong.
When you get there, insist on a consultation and medical evaluation before the operation. Ask all the questions you want and don’t be bullied into anything you’re not happy about. Finally, if it doesn’t feel right, just walk away; it’s far better to lose some money than risk your health.
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