Who benefits most from cosmetic surgery? The surgeon or the patient?

Posted: 19/01/2016


The Penningtons Manches cosmetic surgery claims team is currently pursuing a case concerning breast augmentation surgery. In the course of investigations, our plastic surgery expert, in his criticism of the surgeon, has highlighted a worrying issue about the risk of cosmetic procedures being recommended purely for the benefit of the clinic and/ or surgeon’s commercial interests rather than in the best interests of their patients.

Cosmetic surgery, by its very nature, may involve treatments which, although not objectively necessary, are subjectively of considerable importance to the patient. As a result, patients may often seek an outcome which is likely, if not certain, to be unachievable.

With any elective cosmetic procedure, it is always explained that no result can ever be 100% guaranteed. The question is whether some surgeons and/ or clinics will agree to continue with a particular treatment purely for commercial purposes, disregarding the likely poor outcome for the patient, on the basis that the patient has voluntarily chosen to have treatment in the knowledge that it may not be achievable.

Is there a point at which a surgeon should try to deter a patient and/ or refuse to perform the surgery in the first place? Is this a question of medical professionalism, ethics or legal duty?

The surgeon/ clinic is likely to argue that, provided the risks and failure rate are explained, they should be able to proceed with surgery if the patient agrees, typically at considerable financial cost to the patient. It is usually advisable to seek input from a patient’s GP, to check the psychiatric history, and to recommend input from a psychiatrist before ‘significant’ procedures are performed. This will not, however, apply to all procedures and there is usually some discretion.

The vast majority of cosmetic surgery is carried out in the private sector and breast augmentation is consistently the most popular cosmetic procedure. As long as it remains good ‘business’, there must surely be a risk that treatments which may knowingly be detrimental to a patient in the long run will be recommended in the commercial interests of the clinic.

James Corbin, a member of the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, says: “The best advice to ensure patient safety must be that, when considering ‘significant’ cosmetic surgery, a second opinion is sought from an independent surgeon of equivalent standing in the field, before deciding whether to go ahead.”


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