SCALPEL SAFARI Nov 9 2003
Scots go to South Africa for cheap op and holiday deals but medical experts warn they are risking their lives
By Natasha Weale
AS three per cent of Scots turn to plastic surgery to enhance their looks experts are warning they could be risking their health by going under the knife abroad.
The latest destination for patients wanting to recuperate from cosmetic surgery in the sun away from friends and neighbours is South Africa.
Mum-of-two Sonia Evans went there to have a tummy tuck, breast enlargement and luxury holiday and was delighted with the results.
But doctors have told British women who are spending £200 million a year on plastic surgery to be aware of the pitfalls of scalpel safaris.
Professor David Sharpe, of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said: "It is a very risky business to go abroad to see a surgeon you have never met before and have no idea you can trust. You might get away with it but it could also be a disaster. I would call it madness.''
Yet Glasgow-born Sonia, 37, says her foreign surgery changed her life.
She had been feeling low after her husband left her and felt she had never got her figure back after having her children. She travelled to Johannesburg with a company called Surgeon And Safari. After her ops, she had a 12-night stay at a luxury hotel. The total cost was £5100. The operations alone would have set her back £9000 in Britain.
Sonia, who now lives in Finchley, London, says she had tried to get surgery on the NHS or privately in the UK but was put off by waiting lists and high prices. She said: ``I started to look into the option of going abroad. I looked into the cost and checked out the surgeon's qualifications thoroughly.
``There was no way I was going to make my decision lightly. I had heard horror stories in the past. But the travel firm could not have been more helpful. I met the surgeon on the first day and felt very relaxed with him. Being in luxurious surroundings helped me feel more comfortable. It really did seem like a holiday.''
When she came round from the surgery, Sonia had gone from a 34 AA to a 34D and the loose flesh on her stomach had disappeared. She said: ``During the rest of the holiday, I wore bikinis and tiny crop tops for the first time in years. When I went there I was feeling insecure and ashamed of my body. But I came back feeling someone would be very lucky to have me.''
Some of the women heading to South Africa for cosmetic surgery travel with a firm run by Scots divorcee Maureen Russell.
Maureen, 46, from Perth, set up New You Vacations after having eyelid surgery in Johannesburg. It would have cost her £3500 in Britain but she saved £2500 and was back to work a week later. Now she is offering Scotswomen the chance to have surgery plus a holiday of a lifetime. Maureen said: "I came up with the idea after reading an articleabout how many Brits were going abroad for their surgery.
"Approximately 100 fly to South Africa every month for treatment. I knew other medical travel firms were operating in the region but with the tourism market there on the verge of exploding, I knew it would be a good career move. I think one of the main reasons clients go abroad is because they can keep their surgery a secret. There is more pressure to look good these days. Surgery has becomea more realistic, accessible and affordable option.''
Maureen remembers how she felt before going under the knife. She said: "I had always been self-conscious of my eyes. Whenever I was tired I felt like I had a hooded look which aged me a lot. My confidence started to go after my divorce and it got to the point where I thought, `What the hell'.''
Maureen, who is now based in Johannesburg, insists her firm only recommends first-class surgeons plus the best pre-op and post-op care. She said: "There are three parts to the perfect trip operation, recuperation and vacation. I always put the client in touch with the surgeon while they are still in the UK. They meet the surgeon as soon as they arrive to have all their questions answered. Surgery will be scheduled for the next day. We offer the highest quality care to put a client's mind at ease because I know coming to a different country can be a daunting prospect.''
But John McGregor, a consultant plastic surgeon at Murrayfield private hospital in Edinburgh, sounded a note of caution. He said: "Unless patients do their homework, they could be putting their lives at risk. The gain for the patient is that they could save some money. But I don't think it's worth the risk.''
For more information log on to www.surgeon-and-safari.co.za
Cost of three simple ops at home and abroad
Expensive but some of the world's best surgeons are based here. Always use one who is registered with the General Medical Council.
Nose £4400 Breast £3500 Face £4400
Includes a luxury holiday but proper post-op care is vital. Make sure you can see a recommended UK surgeon should something go wrong.
Nose £2200 Breast £2300 Face £3600
Popular for nose and facial surgery. But surgeons are not well regulated. There have been reports of some clinics being dirty and covered in graffiti.
Nose £1600 Breast £2600 Face £3055
Popular for facelifts. Prices are up to 50 per cent less than the UK. Some visitors have complained of dirty clinics, poor treatment and accommodation.
Nose £2000 Breast £2700 Face £2600