Patients are increasingly putting themselves at risk by undergoing plastic surgery under the care of foreign doctors working briefly in the UK.

Surgeons from abroad regularly visit the UK to offer cut-price treatments before flying home. The availability of foreign doctors supplied by private medical groups has largely been responsible for the rise in affordable cosmetic surgery in Britain. However, the distance makes it hard for British patients to track down the doctor who performed their surgery should they suffer complications. Surgeons are usually employed by commercial chains which fly them to Britain for a short period of time.

It has become apparent that many European doctors do not have adequate indemnity insurance. The result of this is that patients may have to sue them in their native countries, a British surgeons group has warned. It is often the case that many European doctors are not as experienced as their British counterparts, confirmed by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS). Correcting botched plastic surgery carried out by foreign doctors in the UK or abroad costs the NHS at least £5,000 per patient. This figure does not include the price of medication, scans and follow-up appointments. Overall, it is estimated that the NHS could be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds rectifying problems arising from cosmetic surgery tourism.

A London NHS trust has recently released figures regarding the NHS treatment of 18 patients who suffered complications following foreign procedures. The study, by King’s College Hospital, found that seven of the patients required surgery to correct mistakes. These operations took place in countries including Tunisia, Turkey, Spain and Poland for buttock augmentation, liposuction and breast implants.

The group is now calling for a change in the law to protect patients who it says are putting their lives at risk. When undergoing operations abroad, the issue arises from the fact that the insurance for the operation covers you in that particular country and not in the UK. Unless you travel to the country where the operation took place, you would be unable to enter into litigation against the negligent surgeon. This has resulted in many patients who have undergone substandard surgery being unable to claim for compensation. The cost of the corrective surgery then falls at the door of the NHS.

There is currently no system in place to check routinely that European doctors practising in the UK have indemnity insurance. There is also no requirement for them to have insurance equivalent to the level needed by their British counterparts, who are required to have indemnity cover of £10 million. Therefore European doctors can in theory operate without insurance, the BAAPS warns.

It is of course essential that patients are fully aware of the risk of undergoing surgery from a foreign doctor visiting the UK or undergoing surgery abroad.