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Considering going overseas for surgery? Here’s what to do first

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Considering going overseas for your healthcare or a cosmetic procedure? We sought expert advice on potential red flags to be aware of along with how to research it and what your medical tourism insurance should cover.

From ‘Turkey teeth’, hair transplants and weight loss surgery abroad to hip, knee and laser eye correction, both cosmetic and healthcare procedures abroad are growing in popularity.

Wondering why people go abroad for surgery? While some are attracted by the comparatively low costs of cosmetic surgery, long NHS waiting lists here in the UK are also driving people abroad for medical procedures, with numbers increasing from 152,000 to 234,000 between 2018 and 2021.

Whether you’re looking for rhinoplasty or a new hip, the Royal College of Surgeons warns that all procedures come with risks, both in the UK and abroad. But if you want to travel, how can you reduce these potential risks?

Man and woman in their 50s walk through empty airport
People are increasingly going abroad for healthcare procedures as well as cosmetic surgery. (Photo above © Getty Images)
Give yourself plenty of time to recover, plus wiggle room

Professor Sarunas Tarasevicius, a specialist surgeon and head of orthopaedics at Northopaedics Clinic in Lithuania, says he’s seen a big increase in British people travelling for surgery in recent years. To ensure the best outcomes, he advises patients to extend their stay to fully recover before flying home.

“Usually, we advise our patients stay for at least 10 days after surgery and do daily rehabilitation. We send them home with ongoing rehabilitation advice and exercises, as well as contact numbers for continued support.”

No surgery is without risk, so if something does go wrong or recovery is going to be longer than expected you need to make sure the clinic is willing and able to support and accommodate you. Do they have intensive care facilities, or will you be sent to a local hospital at your own cost? If you need longer to recover, can you stay there (if so, check the costs don’t hike up) or is your time limited?

At Northopaedics Clinic, for example, patients have access to intensive care facilities if anything goes wrong. “We ensure patients are fully advised on potential risks and we never take payments in advance. If people need longer to recover than they anticipated, they can also extend their stay with us,” says Sarunas. “And we provide full support on wound care, dressings and flying safety.”

Read more: Can cosmetic bonding give you the perfect smile?
Doctor in green scrubs on laptop video call with patient
Check the aftercare and access from the UK for any surgery abroad
Look at both the pre-care and aftercare options for your surgery

Professor Vivien Lees, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, says that patients must be mindful of potential complications and fully research both the pre-care and aftercare options.

“Many clinics and hospitals abroad offer an excellent level of care. However, this isn’t always the case,” she explains. “Some medical centres abroad may take shortcuts to cut costs, and it’s important for patients to carefully research providers and understand the pre- and post-operative care they can expect, as it may not measure up to what’s offered in the UK.”

You may be able to find cosmetic surgery abroad with UK aftercare but, if not, it’s best to do lots of research and compare your options. It can be helpful to compare treatment plans abroad with those in the UK’s private healthcare sector, as well as comparing different clinics abroad against each other. This will be a quick and easy way to spot those whose aftercare doesn’t measure up.

Less reputable clinics might also rush patients into making decisions about procedures and demand money before the processes have been fully explained.

Read more: Millie Mackintosh talks ‘tweakments’ in a body positive world
Female doctor in white clinic coat reads patient files at surgical clinic reception
Don’t just research the overseas clinic, research the surgeon too
Research your surgeon thoroughly before booking surgery abroad

It’s important to look for reviews of your surgeon, but with horror stories of patients being forced to leave five-star reviews in exchange for a fit to fly letter, you’ll need to do a deep dive.

You may be able to find people on social media who have been patients at the clinic by searching hashtags, tagged images of the clinic or those who have posted from the location.

Sarunas advises “Try to speak directly to people who have been treated and research the techniques and procedures he or she will be using. You can compare these to others being used in the UK to help you make your decision.”

He also adds that the volume of surgeries being done at the hospital or clinic is important. “You need to look for someone experienced, who’s done lots of similar surgeries before.”

Read more: How to prevent back pain in later life, according to new research
Woman sits across desk signing documents
Always read the small print and check documents before signing consent for surgery
Check for hidden costs and get comprehensive travel insurance

Sarunas says that all costs should be transparent, for the pre-care, surgery and aftercare. However, the BAACSP warns that anyone travelling for surgery should be mindful of hidden costs and consider the financial ramifications of their decision. As well as the price of travel and accommodation, there can be additional time needed off from work. Particularly for cosmetic surgeries, patients need to factor in any corrections or follow-up treatments they may need — can you afford additional treatments, and can you afford to take additional time off is necessary? The answer ought to be a yes.

Anyone travelling for surgery abroad needs to ensure their insurance will cover emergency care if there are unexpected complications.

Beware of surgery ‘holidays’ — you’re not there to relax

It’s important to remember that a longer stay doesn’t make it a holiday, with the British Association of Aesthetic Cosmetic Surgery (BAACSP) pointing out that most procedures require serious rest and relaxation afterwards, which means no sunbathing, alcohol, or swimming.

You may find all-inclusive cosmetic surgery packages abroad, which are often marketed as an affordable option with all costs included. As long as you read the fine print and do your research these aren’t inherently a bad option, but look out for red flags, like talk of ‘enjoying your holiday’ or ‘relaxing while you recover’. Remember, anywhere advertising surgery as a luxury spa break should be avoided.

Written by Lizzie Cernik

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