UK cosmetic surgery clinics cannot be trusted say experts

Clinics in the UK offering cosmetic surgery have been accused of being dishonest to potential clients and putting sales before safety.

Researchers working as undercover investigators have revealed that some clinics in attempts to persuade women to choose expensive and risky operations use unqualified practitioners for the procedures.

The researchers working for the consumer magazine Which? found that in some UK clinics, poorly trained sales assistants made false claims regarding operations, such as describing invasive surgery as 'scarless' or a 'minor procedure' and insisting that breast implants could last for ever and that there was proof that those who had plastic surgery enjoyed a "much higher quality of life".

The consumer group has uncovered widespread evidence of pressure selling in the industry, with some practitioners carrying out cosmetic treatments without the relevant specialist qualifications.

Another breach of industry rules was seen when customers were rushed into having an operation by offers of time-sensitive discounts and discounts for an early booking.

Guidelines for the £906m industry ban time-limited financial inducements and Which? was also concerned by "buy one, get one free" offers.

Industry guidelines state that surgeons must properly assess the patient’s suitability for treatment and undertake outpatient consultations yet at one clinic, the entire consultation for liposuction was taken by a sales consultant.

Even more of a concern was literature from a clinic which offered liposuction in an 'office setting' to avoid hospital costs.

For their research the investigators visited 19 clinics in England and Wales, posing as prospective candidates for breast surgery, liposuction and Botox, in order to test the clinics' advice.

Independent experts then examined and analysed transcripts of the consultations and the surgeries were rated.

Of the 19 none of them was classed as "excellent" and just 5 were considered "good".

The estimated number of procedures undertaken in 2007 was nearly 1,500 times the 2002 level and widespread rule-breaking went unchecked.

Jenny Driscoll, a health campaigner for Which?, has described the results as "shocking" and says that when people go for a consultation they should get accurate and in-depth advice from a medical professional, not a pitch from an unqualified salesperson.

She says the investigations revealed a relaxed attitude to non-surgical treatments such as Botox and says it is worrying to find that it is being prescribed by doctors without them having seen or even spoken to the patient.

Apparently a nurse at one clinic in Leeds had simply called a doctor in Harley Street and paid him £40 for a prescription for Botox - Botox should only be prescribed by a doctor or someone with prescribing rights.

At another clinic one sales assistant showed her breasts to a Which? researcher in order to make a breast augmentation sale.

The researchers saw two people in most cases - first they would spend a great deal of time with a marketing person and then see the surgeon afterwards and they say the initial consultation should be with a surgeon.

Which? has called on the government to ditch self-regulation of Botox and dermal fillers, and are calling for any practitioners providing invasive treatments to be registered with the Care Quality Commission, the government healthcare regulator.

Which? found three major areas of concern - the use of aggressive marketing, poor information making it harder for patients to come to an informed decision and unchecked breaking of regulations and codes of conduct.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, which represents leading specialists, said it had "deep concerns" about the selling methods used by non-medical staff in some clinics and is urging the government to reconsider its decision to scrap introduction of a regulatory framework for cosmetic treatments."

A survey for Saga Magazine of 7,800 older people has revealed that 26 per cent of women admit they had already had cosmetic surgery or would be willing to try it along with 9 per cent of men.

Top of the list for women were eye lifts, followed by facelifts, tummy tucks, liposuction and breast reductions.

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