The term cosmetic may make surgical and non-surgical procedures seem like glorified beauty treatments but they should be taken just as seriously as other medical procedures
We are constantly bombarded with images of beautiful people in the public eye, fuelling our desire to achieve the body beautiful and hold back the ravages of time. Cosmetic surgery and procedures to improve your personal appearance are growing in popularity in the UK with market analyst Mintel predicting that Britons will spend more than £1billion on cosmetic surgery in 2009.
This surge is partly due to the perception that technical advances in the last few years have improved what is achievable and minimised potential risks and recovery periods. While this is undoubtedly true, if you are contemplating surgery or even a non-invasive procedure, it is crucial that you follow basic safety guidelines to prepare yourself.
As Mark Henley, consultant plastic surgeon and member of The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), makes clear, "Cosmetic surgery undertaken in appropriate circumstances is very positive and can be life changing in a highly beneficial way. However, if things are not right then it is likely to be at least unsatisfactory and, at worst, disastrous for all concerned."
BAAPS is a non-profit organisation committed to maintaining standards in the field of cosmetic surgery and they have provided the following guidelines for when considering cosmetic surgery.
S.U.R.E you want cosmetic surgery?
S is for surgeon
The first step is to find the right surgeon and check their credentials. Above is a list of useful websites to check out including the Care Quality Commission as all clinics should be registered with the Commission. As a spokesperson for the Commission explains, this can have serious implications: "If a clinic offers a procedure without that registration they are not legally registered to offer that treatment and their insurance might not cover you in the event of something going wrong."
Hospitals which have strong associations with NHS consultants and practices will also adhere to high standards and so offer some level of reassurance.
U is for understand
Make sure you fully understand what’s involved and that you are informed about the potential risk of each procedure, be it surgical or non-surgical. The internet can be a valuable source of information but it can also fast become bewildering; for every imperfection there are a number of treatments that could deal with the problem.
It is imperative that you discuss in depth with your surgeon what you would like to achieve and, even more importantly, that you take on board what is actually achievable.
R is for recovery
Make sure you fully understand the process of recovery and what the long-term implications are of any cosmetic treatment. The term cosmetic may make it seem like a glorified beauty treatment but they are just as complex as other medical operations and they should be taken just as seriously.
Rajiv Grover, consultant plastic surgeon and Secretary of BAAPS, believes that "many patients still think that some procedures can be performed in a lunch hour but unfortunately all surgical operations have significant downtime and will require time off work and social activities".
E stands for expectations
A recent survey by two top American plastic surgeons put together the perfect face; it had Katie Holmes’ eyes, Katherine Heigl’s nose, Keira Knightley’s cheeks and Angelina Jolie’s lips. But what looks great on Angelina Jolie might not work on you.
It is essential that your hopes be compatible with what can actually be achieved. A patient who has a personal desire for, and is able to identify realistic goals, is likely to be a suitable candidate – but someone who thinks the procedure will magically change their life may not be right for surgery.
Rajiv Grover is of the opinion this is probably the most important area you should consider and it is crucial the surgeon gives an honest and clear opinion as to what can be achieved. "If what you are looking for cannot realistically be achieved you would be better off spending the money in Selfridges or on a cruise."
Over recent years, the market for non-surgical procedures has exploded with people keen to experiment with treatments that avoid the need for surgery with its higher costs and safety considerations. But although these treatments do not involve surgery that does not mean they are risk free and some of these treatments can have permanent effects.
Dr Rita Rakus, co-founder of the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors (BACD) believes that it is essential for cosmetic doctors to selfregulate themselves to provide prospective patients with a degree of reassurance. "The British Association of Cosmetic Doctors was set up to provide the public with a list of reputable practitioners and provide training for cosmetic doctors. As well as checking the BACD website www.cosmeticdoctors.co.uk and that the practitioner is registered with the Care Quality Commission, further endorsements can be obtained from the manufacturer of the product, e.g. Allergan (Botox and Juvéderm) or QMed (Restylane), who provide a list of trained practitioners."
How to complain
If something does go wrong, the first course of action is to speak to the doctor or surgeon and discuss your options. However, if you remain dissatisfied with the results or you do not feel happy about how your complaint is being handled by the practitioner then you need to contact the appropriate governing body.
The Care Quality Commission has replaced the Healthcare Commission and this body is responsible for regulating all independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery or treatments that use lasers and intense pulsed light.
The General Medical Council (GMC) regulates doctors in the UK and has the powers to issue a warning to a doctor, remove the doctor from the register or suspend or place conditions on a doctor’s registration.
Mr Fazel Fatah, consultant plastic surgeon and President elect of BAAPS provides some general advice before you consider cosmetic surgery abroad.
Increasing number of patients are choosing to go abroad for cosmetic surgery. Although you can find cosmetic surgeons and clinics that provide the same level of expertise and care as surgeons in the UK, some patients are finding they need treatment when they return, either urgently because of surgical complications and being prematurely discharged or later when they discover they are unhappy with the overall result.
The decision to go abroad for cosmetic surgery, away from one’s support network, cannot be taken lightly.
Make sure it is your decision. Only agree to a package that is all inclusive, and which clearly defines that your right to cancel at any point is protected without financial penalty and that your follow-up and the cost of treating complications are covered.
Beware of agencies that glamorise combining cosmetic surgery with a holiday; your welfare is at risk. This idea is misleading and irresponsible, patients after major surgery require rest and care and cannot enjoy sunbathing, swimming or sightseeing.
Check the credentials of your surgeon and the hospital, while it is fairly easy to do this in the UK, it may not be as easy to do so abroad.
Beware of any package that doesn’t allow you to meet the surgeon who operates on you for a consultation before you agree to surgery. Ensure that there is no significant language barrier during this meeting.
Check that the surgeon and the hospital are indemnified for medical mishaps and negligence.
Early complications can happen seven to ten days after surgery, so make sure you have a thorough check up during this period and that they do not fly you home too early.
Do not agree to blood transfusion or the use of other blood products unless you are certain that the safety standards meet those of the UK.
If you prefer cosmetic surgery abroad because of cheap offers, consider the reasons why cosmetic surgery in the UK may be moderately more expensive:
- Stringent and costly regulations for the highest possible standard of care and safety from the Health Care Commission that the private hospitals in the UK have to comply with.
- UK plastic surgeons have to pay high indemnity fees, often in excess of £40,000 a year as a safeguard for patients, before they are allowed to carry out cosmetic surgery. This is not the case in the rest of Europe, and in most of the developing countries indemnity against medical mishaps and negligence does not exist.
- www.baaps.org.uk: for more information on BAAPS safety guidelines and an accredited list of surgeons
- There is also an organisation for dentists, the British Association of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD) at www.bacd.com
- For doctors specialising in aesthetic procedures, the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors (BACD), provide guidelines and a list of BACD-approved doctors at www.cosmeticdoctors.co.uk
- www.dh.gov.uk/en/publichealth: The Department of Health provides a comprehensive look at the cosmetic surgery industry (follow the links to cosmetic surgery)
- www.rsceng.ac.uk: The Royal College of Surgeons website provides details on surgical training in England as well as advice for patients
- www.gmc-uk.org: The General Medical Council provides a search facility that allows users to check a doctor’s registration. It also includes a registration of surgeons and anaesthetists.
- www.cqc.org.uk: Since April 2009 the Care Quality Commission has taken over from the Healthcare Commission. The Care Quality Commission website contains information on cosmetic surgery and details of all hospitals, clinics and other providers who are registered with the Commission, as well as links to any inspection reports that the Commission have produced.