As Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, calls for cosmetic procedures to be removed from the NHS, cosmetic surgery law specialists at Penningtons Manches consider the implications of these changes for patients.

It is currently possible to have cosmetic surgery on the NHS if there is a physical or mental health risk to the patient. In the past, such procedures have included rhinoplasty, breast augmentation and tummy tucks. Over the past six years, an estimated 8,000 tummy tuck procedures were performed on the NHS at a total cost of approximately £50 million. The number of procedures carried out each year is increasing.

Mr Hunt has said that he is only targeting the “purely cosmetic” procedures that he considers should not be carried out on the NHS. He is not calling for a total ban on cosmetic procedures but that they should be rare occurrences. He said: “The decisions are taken on the basis of clinical need, but I have made it very clear that I am against purely cosmetic work. There will be times when there is a mental health need, which the local doctor has said is very serious”.

It is suggested that any future decision to undertake cosmetic surgery on the NHS will be considered on a clinical need basis amid concerns of pressure being put on hospitals by patients for these procedures to be performed.

Emily Palmer, clinical negligence associate at Penningtons Manches, commented: “The potential consequences of any policy changes must be fully explored before they are implemented. If the Government considers that tighter regulation is required, then guidance needs to be given for both the types of procedures available on the NHS and eligibility.

“There must also be a definition of “purely cosmetic” and clarity about which procedures will be included and which will not. We presume that cases such a breast reconstruction following cancer surgery would be permissible on the NHS but patients will need clear guidance.

“The potential knock-on effect of patients seeking cheaper cosmetic surgery abroad also needs to be considered as there is already an increase in the number of patients going abroad with sometimes disastrous results. These numbers will increase further with the changes the Health Secretary is suggesting as patients look for alternatives”.