In the UK there is increasing demand for cosmetic surgery and potential patients are faced with more and more choice. This means that, unless they already have an established reputation, clinics need to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd with competitive advertising campaigns.
The commercialisation and competitive environment of the cosmetic surgery industry results in some clinics using morally questionable tactics in their advertising campaigns to draw in clients. Specifically, we have seen an increasing amount of deals and offers such as 'two for one' offers for 'couples’ cosmetic surgery' or 'mother and daughter' deals.
There are also cut price deals that do not allow patients to be refunded if they change their mind, raising the possibility that patients may undergo unwanted or ill-considered surgery simply because they have purchased on impulse and do not want to 'waste' money they cannot get back.
With Valentine's Day almost upon us, there have also been adverts encouraging people to undergo cosmetic surgery in preparation for their romantic weekend or even to buy it as a gift for their partner with the implications that the procedure will improve their life and relationships.
Following the PIPS scandal, a clampdown on this type of advertising was suggested but has since been dismissed. Instead, the Department of Health has promised to "better enforce existing codes." Eva Wiseman for The Observer commented that this approach "won't work. The Advertising Standards Agency is reactive, rather than proactive, meaning that clinics will publish ads that they know will be banned but, in the short time they remain up, will have paid for themselves. In December, 52% of the top Google-ranked clinics were still advertising "luxury perks" as inducements for surgery and 37% of the incentives were time-sensitive, to pressure people into booking quickly."
Simon Whitey, a plastic surgery consultant at the Royal Free Hospital in London commented for the Mirror Online: “there should be no such thing as the cheap option; you should get a certain standard of care, you should get excellence.”
Sarah Gubbins, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, commented: "Today's culture is fuelled by 'last chance to buy', 'special deals' and 'limited time offers' but, in the cosmetic surgery industry, this is a worrying trend.
"We share Eva Wiseman's concerns that, by the time arrangements have been made to take an inappropriate advert down, it is likely to have already served its purpose, inciting those who are impressionable or who are 'sitting on the fence' to undergo serious surgical procedures, with little regard for all the associated risks and complications. Going 'under the knife' is trivialised by these adverts but, in reality, it needs careful planning and consideration and should not be entered into lightly. The other concern is that the more money that is spent on advertising, the more profit needs to be made from procedures – which ties in with our concerns about the time surgeons are taking to consult and assess people pre-operatively and the financial incentive for them to advise patients to proceed.
“There is also a growing concern that the pressure for clinics to keep costs low and offer better 'deals' than competitors may lead to an erosion of the careful medical processes that are the cornerstone of safe practice. A 'selling cheap, stacking high' approach is only going to lead to problems. In order for this type of 'revolving door' style clinic to work, there needs to be a fast turnaround, which often means the correct pre-procedure checks and essential aftercare are not properly dealt with. If this happens, often the best 'deals' or 'quick-fix' solutions lead to the worst outcomes for patients. When permanently changing your body, the risks of 'going cheap' can be devastating and we urge people not to be 'sucked in' by the temptation of special offers.
“Unfortunately, as the demand for cosmetic surgery grows, we are also seeing an increasing number of cosmetic surgery clinical negligence claims. Many of our clients have dreamed of how cosmetic surgery will change their lives but, when it has gone wrong, they have been left devastated, often requiring further treatment to correct the damage that has been caused.
“At Penningtons Manches, we understand the importance of ensuring that potential patients in this growing industry are able to carefully consider whether they need or want treatment and, if so, whether a surgeon is adequately trained and qualified. It is well known that many people choose their cosmetic surgeon based on another patient's recommendation. Thankfully, there are now measures being introduced to regulate surgeons practising in cosmetic surgery and to ensure that they are properly trained and qualified. Hopefully this move towards regulation will help to improve patient safety going forwards."