Facelifts in Delhi, tummy tucks in Cape Town: UK's cosmetic tourists go worldwide

With a holiday on the beach thrown in or a few days on safari, the fashion for combining sun, surgery and savings makes for big business overseas, as Steve Bloomfield reports
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Record numbers of Britons are travelling abroad for plastic surgery amid growing complaints about soaring prices for straightforward procedures in the UK.

New figures show that the combination of sun, sea and surgery is persuading more than 10,000 Britons a year to travel as far afield as Brazil, South Africa and Malaysia for cheap plastic surgery. They are turning their backs on British-based surgeons who often charge up to four times as much as their collegues overseas for a basic operation.

The surge in demand has been fuelled by a wave of cheap deals. Tummy tuck operations, which can cost as much as £6,500 in Britain, cost as little as £1,500 abroad - including the flights, accommodation and, often, a week's convalescence on the beach.

Plastic surgery companies in India, South Africa and Malaysia are all reporting a sharp increase in the number of Britons flying out for tummy tucks, breast enlargements and face lifts. Many of the firms offer holidays as part of the package, enabling patients to recuperate by the beach rather than at home.

The trend is underlined by the fact that South Africa-based Surgeon and Safari, which lays on a safari for its customers after the operation, is now planning to focus exclusively on the British market.

The company's founder, Lorraine Melvill, said: "When we started in the 1990s we focused on America but recently that has changed. Prices in the UK are huge."

Med de Tour, which flies patients out to its clinic in Madras, India, has seen the number of British patients double. "The big advantage for us is that the NHS is pretty much run on Indian doctors and nurses," said Prem Singh, the firm's marketing director. "They are trusted."

In Belgium, Elyzea Cosmetic Surgery reported a 30 per cent increase in the number of British patients over the past year. Its team of 21 plastic surgeons, led by Dr Robert Glasroth, now sees nearly 2,000 British patients each year - more than the number of Belgian clients.

Plastic surgeons in the United States, Thailand and Brazil - the plastic surgery capital of the world - are all targeting British customers too, with specially designed deals up to four times cheaper than in Britain.

Joanna Jones, 35, from Cheltenham, flew to Malaysia earlier this year for liposuction, a tummy tuck and breast enlargement. "I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks, then spent a week lying on a beach," said the mother of two.

"The hospital was like a five-star hotel and the surgeon had trained in the UK and had been doing it for 25 years," she said.

Ms Jones paid £4,500 for flights, accommodation and surgery. Similar treatment in Britain would have cost her up to £10,000 more - and that's without the holiday.

But British plastic surgeons last night hit back and defended their higher prices, claiming the standard of surgery abroad is often not as high as in Britain.

Norman Waterhouse, a consultant plastic surgeon and past president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said many of the cheap deals were actually proving to be more expensive in the long term.

"It is an increasingly common occurrence for plastic surgeons in Britain to have to pick up a problem that has occurred abroad," he said.

Dr Waterhouse warned that many of the deals on offer can prove more expensive than surgery in Britain if something goes wrong. "People need to be very careful taking what seem to be very attractive offers.

"Many of these deals involve getting on a plane before you have even seen a surgeon. I am very dubious about those type of organisation," he said.

To counter claims from British plastic surgeons that a surgeon based abroad cannot offer the same level of pre- and post-operative care and support, companies are beginning to open offices in Britain and fly their surgeons over for check-ups on a regular basis.

As well as giving consultations at his surgery in Brussels, Dr Glasroth also has a clinic in London's Harley Street, where would-be patients have their first appointment. After having the cosmetic procedure performed in Brussels, they return to Harley Street for aftercare and check-ups.

"It is important that people have the consultation and think about it before they come to Brussels," he said. "When they are ready, then they can come.

"A lot of people think medical tourism is a cheap alternative but we have very strict standards. It is about quality."

Despite the rise in numbers travelling abroad, the British market is still growing. More than 16,000 operations were performed last year - an increase of more than 50 per cent over the previous 12 months.

Tummy tuck in South Africa

Sonja Evans, 40, travelled to South Africa with Surgeon and Safari to have a tummy tuck in 2002. Cost: £3,800 for flights, a two-week stay and surgery

"I had always been a size 8, but had two children in quick succession. I put on four stone. A year later, my husband left. I had gone back to a size 10, but I had a great big pouch of skin. After two years on the NHS waiting list I was still waiting. I considered having it done privately in this country but was not happy with any of the surgeons.

"With Surgeon and Safari I checked the surgeon's qualifications and everywhere he used to work. The cost was a third of what I was quoted in Britain. I could recuperate for two weeks afterwards. The rules are very strict in South Africa and the service was incredible. It was a much better experience than it would have been in Britain."

Eye lift in Belgium

Pauline Mather, 50, from Liverpool, had a lower and upper eye lift, face and neck lift with Elyzea one year ago. Cost: £3,200 for surgery, £300 for flights and accommodation

"My daughter got married and I felt I looked old in the wedding video. I thought it would be a treat for my 50th.

"I had been a nurse for 23 years so I felt comfortable with it. I checked out all the surgeon's qualifications and got in touch with other people who had used the surgeon. I would not have gone if I was not happy.

"It was all a lot more affordable in Belgium. It actually took me longer to get to Harley Street than it did to fly to Brussels. I went on a Monday, had the procedure on a Tuesday and flew home on Wednesday. I worried that if things did not go right it would be a problem - it isn't the same as going down the road.

"I am delighted - it is very natural-looking. I would definitely go back if I was having anything else done."

Breast enlargement in Malaysia

Joanna Jones, 35, flew to Malaysia for liposuction and breast enlargement with Gorgeous Getaways in February. Cost: £4,500 for flights, accommodation and surgery

"Having children had made my breasts go a bit saggy. After my second child I couldn't regain my shape. Callum, my youngest, was three and I hadn't got my figure back. I was a bit despondent.

"The price was what made it so attractive. I could have someone look after the kids while I recovered on a beach. It worked really well.

"It was better in Malaysia than it would have been here. The hospital was like a five-star hotel and the surgeon had trained in the UK and had been doing it for 25 years. There is nothing he does not know about plastic surgery.

"I did extensive research before I committed - the company was just brilliant. They picked me up from the airport and visited me every day to check I was all right. I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks, then spent a week lying on a beach on an island."

The bottom line: rates overseas

Country: South Africa

Procedures: face lift, breast augmentation, liposuction, nose job

Prices: face lift £6,050 Accommodation: includes hotel stay

Country: Croatia

Procedures: nose job, breast implants, face lift

Prices: from £1,600-£3,055

Flights: £150

Accommodation: £34-£72 per night

Country: Poland

Procedure: face lift

Price: £2,600

Flights: from £100

Accommodation: from £45 per night

Country: France

Procedure: half body lift

Price: £5,400

Accommodation: Eurostar travel and hotel - £220 for two nights

Country: Czech Republic

Procedures: breast implants, face and neck lift, nose job, tummy tuck, liposuction

Prices: £856-£2,346

Flights: £165

Accommodation: 1-2 weeks included

Country: Belgium

Procedures: bottom lift, breast reduction, bottom implant, face lift, liposuction, nose job, tummy tuck

Prices: £700-£2,900

Eurostar: £250

Accommodation: from £50 per night

Country: Malaysia

Procedures: face lift, upper and lower eye lifts, jowls and neck, or brow lift, tummy tuck, breast augmentation, body shaping, liposuction on abdomen and thighs

Price: from £5,380 for two operations

Flights: from £494