According to a survey conducted by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, cheap “facelift holidays” to countries as far as South Africa, Thailand, and Malaysia, are becoming increasingly popular, however British plastic surgeons are having to repair more cases of botched aesthetic work as a result.

Of 36 surgeons surveyed, five had seen nine or more patients in the past year alone with problems resulting from cheap packages offering aesthetic surgery abroad, and 15 had seen at least three to five cases.

Budget airline flights have made Eastern Europe a popular destination for the British, but package holidays combining beach or safari breaks with surgery are also commonly advertised.

Plastic surgeons who participated in the survey reported that they had seen dissatisfied patients from Poland, followed by South Africa, and Belgium. Other countries with poor reputations for surgery included Hungary, Turkey, Croatia, Cyprus, and Egypt.

In addition, almost all surgeons said that they were concerned by the lack of aftercare provided with treatment abroad. Other worries were language barriers and lower standards of quality in some countries.

Douglas McGeorge, the president of the association and a consultant plastic surgeon, said, “My experience with patients has shown that counselling is inadequate—the individuals have no idea of the standards of care in the country they are visiting and no knowledge of the abilities or experience of the surgeon. Follow-up is difficult. Complications do occur and are usually left to the British system to treat.”

Some of the cases seen by association members included severe wound infections, tissue loss, and a facelift patient who had not even had her stitches removed before returning to Britain, where she then had to pay to have it done.

But operators of aesthetic surgery holidays said that it was “arrogant” for surgeons to think that surgery abroad was less safe than in Britain. John Babbage, co-founder of Europa International, a company in Prague, said that providing consumers took a few basic precautions, having surgery abroad was perfectly safe. However, he suggested that hot, tropical climates were not ideal destinations for surgery.

“This survey is anecdotal," said Babbage. "There is a perception that parts of Europe and elsewhere are more ‘backward’ than the UK, but that is largely an unjustified prejudice. In many countries cosmetic surgery is more tightly regulated and advanced than it is here."

“Some people will be disappointed with the results of plastic surgery due to unrealistic expectations,” he said, “while in the last 6 months we have dealt with five clients who were unhappy with the work by British surgeons, so it works both ways.”

Babbage added that patients should be wary of long-haul package deals and of confusing their recovery time with a holiday.

“Having surgery in winter can lower the risk of infection, while even with reputed destinations such as Beverly Hills, there are risks of embolism and bleeding on a long-haul flight home," Babbage said.

“Those who wish to enjoy the beach will find that they can’t because, in particular with facial work, there is a real danger of serious and disfiguring pigmentation damage from the strong sun,” he added.

Nigel Mercer, president-elect of the association and a consultant plastic surgeon said, “This survey has shown how important it is for patients to thoroughly research every aspect of the procedure they are considering—the risks and benefits, the surgeon, and their own expectations. Patients should be careful not to base choices on discount prices and other marketing tactics. They need to make the best choice for their individual needs."

[www.timesonline.co.uk, November 19, 2007]