Mr Richard Matthews is a highly experienced Consultant Cosmetic & Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon based in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. In a series of interview with Cosmetic Surgery Today he discusses the changes he’s witnessed in the cosmetic surgery industry in the UK and abroad in recent years.
Recent years have seen an increase in medical tourism, also known as cosmetic surgery tourism. What is your view on this development?
Top of the list of why people opt for medical tourism is price. It certainly usually seems cheaper but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
To my mind, the problem with medical tourism is that you don’t know what you are going to get. I’m not saying that some of the plastic surgeons that you see abroad aren’t absolutely excellent and do a fantastic job and some patients may go abroad, get a good result, have no complications and come back and say that was brilliant.
However, by and large, if you go abroad for surgery, you will usually not have met the surgeon in advance of the day of operation, often language is a barrier and you have no control or even sometimes way of checking the infection rates in a hospital abroad.
Furthermore, you won’t know till after surgery whether you will be fit to travel back and, usually, your return flight will have been booked in advance. If you get a problem or complication while you’re there, then it may be sorted, but if you have it when you return home, which will still be quite soon after surgery, what’s going to happen? Are you going to be able to go back to get it sorted? Probably not.
I see patients at my private practice who have had problems after undergoing a cosmetic surgery procedure abroad. Obviously if they are going down the private route then they will be spending more money which they could have spent more favourably in the first place. One may or may not be able to restore them to a level where they are satisfied.
However, if the complication is life-threatening and the patient has to seek treatment from the NHS, then it is a completely different ballgame. In the first place the focus is purely on survival and achieving the least possible damage is very much a secondary aspect. There is also the separate issue of whether it is fair for the NHS, and therefore the UK taxpayer, to pick up the tab for problems arising from your decision to go abroad for surgery.
My worry is that people go into cosmetic surgery abroad without their eyes open and they leave themselves exposed to danger. I certainly would certainly do my utmost to dissuade any of my relatives and friends from travelling abroad for medical tourism purposes.