Would you travel abroad for plastic surgery?

… was the question asked by the UK’s Daily Mirror of its readers, following the recent death of a British woman in a cosmetic surgery clinic in Bangkok.
62% said “No”. 38% said “Yes”.

A Thai doctor, Sompob Sansiri, has been arrested after the 24-year-old woman stopped breathing after being given anaesthetic during the operation at the SP Clinic. The Thai police have said that they believe similar incidents “happened often”, and that the surgeon did not have the appropriate qualifications. See the Daily Telegraph report: British woman, 24, dies during cosmetic surgery in Bangkok

The death has received extensive coverage in the UK media…. Headlines in all of the major newspapers, and leading stories on the main TV news channels. It further damages the image of medical tourism in the UK, and in other English speaking countries where the story has featured.

A perspective on the story can be obtained from this BBC news video – Cosmetic surgery warning follows Joy Williams’ death (may only be available to those in the UK). It features the views of a UK patient who has suffered as a result of cosmetic surgery in Poland. Bryan Mayou from the British Association of Plastic Surgeons claims that one in five of UK patients travelling abroad require corrective surgery in the UK, compared to one in twenty who have cosmetic surgery in the UK.

The response from health professions in the UK and elsewhere has been immediate and highly critical:

  • The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) also issued strong warnings, saying “This tragic case highlights how, if lured by the prospect of what is essentially ‘cheap surgery’, patients can be left vulnerable… When you go abroad in search of ‘cheap cosmetic surgery’, you’re entrusting your life to individuals whose main concern may be their pocket – not the patient.”
  • The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) has re-issued warnings of the risks of cosmetic tourism, in response to the case.

Who is to blame?

The doctor for incompetence? The patient for making the wrong choice of clinic? The Thai government for not regulating the operation of private clinics and operators such as Dr Sansiri? The medical tourism industry for failing to communicate the risks of travelling abroad for surgery?

I’ll let you decide and offer your view.

The activities of Dr Sompob Sansiri have not gone unnoticed in social media and on the web:

  • In 2011, a blog was set up entitled: SP Clinic Warning – Botched Surgeries by Dr Sompob Sansiri, on Tumblr and on Newsvine.
  • Comments on forums such as Thai Visa raised questions.

Presumably to combat negative online comments, positive blogs were set up such as:

  • Dr.Sompob Sansiri Review (Blogspot)
  • Dr.Sompob Sansiri Review (WordPress)
  • PlacidBlog

It appears that the doctor concerned has been undertaking surgery in an inappropriate clinical setting fro some years. But no-one attempted to stop it.

The credibility of the medical tourism industry

One of the biggest challenges to the growth of medical tourism is credibility. The industry lacks the willingness to admit blame and the drive to actually put things right. In cosmetic surgery tourism, this is particularly true. When a cosmetic surgery patient is unhappy with the outcome or suffers a post operative complication, patients complain that clinics are not interested; many clinics will attempt to wash their hands of the matter, in the belief that the patient is unlikely to return with his or her lawyers.

Stories such as the tragedy of this British woman will continue to dominate the headlines where cosmetic surgery tourism is concerned.

I wonder where will feature next?

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Keith Pollard
As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.