When the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) revealed that it would be facing a 5 percent budget shortfall over the next two years – and an estimated £3.4 billion shortfall by 2021 – health care advocates around the United Kingdom and the world were naturally alarmed. The beleaguered health system had already been making headlines in 2017 for turning away patients from critical care such as dental exams and dental fillings. But when a recent report revealed that an increasing amount of NHS funds were being used to correct botched plastic surgery, critics around the world began to cry foul.
“The issue here is multi-fold,” says Berkeley, Michigan, plastic surgeon Dr. Bruce Chau. “The first problem is that people are going to foreign countries to save a few dollars on plastic surgery and getting seriously injured. The second problem is that they’re using public funds to correct the procedures.”
In fact, the NHS estimates that about £30 million has already been spent to correct these botched procedures, at a time when children are literally being turned away from getting their cavities filled. In parts of the United Kingdom, dentistry funding is so low that charitable organizations that are known for providing dental care to impoverished children in developing countries have set up shop to help provide dental care to children in the United Kingdom.
“With such disparities in care, it’s understandable why people would be angry that this money is being allocated to correcting a cosmetic procedure,” says Chau. “But in some cases correcting these procedures can be the difference between life and death.”
Of course, Chau is the first person to tell you that “travel plastic surgery” or “plastic surgery tourism” is a bad idea to begin with.
“We see it a lot in the United States, too – people returning from abroad with botched procedures or deadly infections,” he says. “When you cross international borders, it can be harder to verify that a surgeon has the proper education and credentials. Especially if you don’t speak that doctor’s native language.”
Chau says the best way for United Kingdom patients to avoid this type of emergency surgery is to stick with surgeons who have easily verifiable credentials.
“If you only speak English, stick with a surgeon whose credentials can be easily verified in English – even if the surgeon speaks other languages,” he says. “One of the surgeons accused of performing these botched surgeries is located in Turkey. If you don’t speak or understand Turkish, you are taking an additional risk using that surgeon.”
Chau also cautions patients to use common sense when it comes to pricing.
“If you find a surgeon in another country that offers the same procedure you can get locally but for one-fifth the cost, you have to ask yourself how and why that’s possible,” he says. “That savings may seem like a great deal up front, but it could end up costing you – and in this case the NHS – far more.”