Plastic surgery break!
Sonia Evans was starting to feel desperate. A 39-year-old mother of two, she had piled on the pounds during both pregnancies, resulting in unsightly excess skin on her stomach. To make matters worse, she had recently divorced and was back on the singles scene.
What's your travel-bug?
Her confidence was at a low ebb until she read about Surgeon & Safari, a company that sends cosmetic surgery clients to South Africa and follows up their surgery with a holiday - all for a snip of the cost of a similar operation in the UK.
'My GP was quite sympathetic,' says Sonia. 'He decided the problem was bad enough to put me on an NHS waiting list for surgery - which I'm still on three years later and a year after my operation. I tried to go private in the UK but I wasn't convinced by the surgeon I visited.
He was proposing two large incisions while the surgeon in South Africa performed the operation through one incision that left only a small scar on my bikini line. I also saved about £3,500 by having the operation done abroad.'
Now, whether Nelson Mandela had cosmetic surgery on his mind when he spoke of South Africa as a land where people feel 'a sense of renewal' is doubtful, but a favourable pound/rand exchange rate and the chance to recuperate away from prying eyes is leading hordes of Brits such as Sonia to flock to the Rainbow Nation.
With the price of surgery in South Africa only a third that of the UK, tour operators are increasingly offering packages that include consultation via e-mail and telephone, flights to Cape Town or Johannesburg for surgery, recuperation in five-star accommodation and two to three days in an all-inclusive lodge.
Despite the obvious cost savings, Lorraine Melville of Surgeon & Safari is adamant that travelling to South Africa - remember, it's where the world's first heart transplant was carried out - is more than just a cheap option.
'Clients receive top-quality surgeons, medical facilities and recuperation combined with a full support service,' she says. 'We take care of all their needs and emotional support during their stay.'
Holiday surgery packages are one of the biggest growth areas in South African tourism - bookings show an annual increase of 200 per cent. But some UK plastic surgeons have expressed concern over the trend to head overseas for medical work.
The president of the Royal Society of Medicine's Plastic Surgery Section, Brian Coghlan, admits South African plastic surgery qualifications are equal to those in Britain. But other aspects of the treatment, such as e-mail consultations, worry him.
'It's not just about the quality of surgery,' he says. 'Consultation and follow-up care are just as important. The surgeon should meet the patient prior to the procedure - and that doesn't mean on the morning of surgery.
You could fly to another country and feel pressurised into going ahead with it as you'd already spent so much money. It's important to have some cooling off time before a decision to go ahead is made.' However, South African surgeon Dr Lionel Jedeikin is adamant that e-mail and phone consultations are valid, claiming telecommunications advances have opened up a new world for long-distance clients.
'I'm in London three to four times a year to see both new patients and check up on old ones - if anyone feels they need to see me face to face before making a decision they can,' he says. 'I've met some 70 per cent of my UK patients before they arrived in South Africa.'
Surgeon & Safari surgeons reserve the right to refuse surgery once a patient has been examined. This covers the surgeons legally and allows them to properly assess a patient's suitability for surgery.
'At the end of the day, if they come and are refused, they're not in a weird place,' says Dr Jedeikin. 'It's a beautiful country and they still have their existing holiday.'
Sonia, for one, is more than happy with the service: 'I'd had a couple of relationships but they went no further than a few drinks - I wasn't confident enough to take it any further. Since the operation, my pulling rate has gone up dramatically! It's changed my whole life.'