'She wanted to look a million bucks': The Brits risking their lives getting cosmetic surgery abroad

A growing number of people are returning home from having cosmetic surgery abroad with severe complications. In extreme cases, people have lost their lives. Credit: Pinky Jolley / Aimee Hunter / Sara Platt

The number of people needing hospital treatment in the UK after getting cosmetic surgery abroad has shot up by 94 per cent in three years, with procedures carried out in Turkey accounting for more than three quarters of those in the past six months alone.

Data compiled by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) and shared exclusively with ITV News reveals a growing numbers of people are returning to the UK with complications ranging from wound healing problems to life-threatening sepsis.

In some cases since November last year, patients have needed intensive care treatment and several emergency operations - mostly on the NHS.

Last year, the procedures are estimated to have cost the health service around £1.7 million, prompting calls from MPs and health bodies for the government to act.

BAAPS has recorded a number of cases since November 2022, including a 26-year-old woman who travelled abroad for surgery and unknowingly ended up getting a facelift - which was not the procedure she was there for.

BAAPs said she was left severely traumatised as a result. Another individual travelled to Turkey for a hair transplant and was given a special offer for eyelid surgery the following day, which resulted in multiple complications.

One other had to have a wound re-stitched after surgery - a procedure which was carried out in a hotel room without any local anaesthetic. According to the Foreign Office, at least 24 people from the UK are known to have died following medical procedures in Turkey since 2019. But ITV News has been told this figure is likely to be higher.

Sophie died after having a cardiac arrest in Turkey. Credit: Aimee Hunt

'She just said she wanted to look a million bucks'

Sophie Hunt, a mum-of-two from Northampton, died in March last year after travelling to Istanbul, Turkey, for liposuction and a tummy tuck.

The 34-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest two days after the procedure, which she wanted done in a bid to lose weight and gain confidence.

Speaking to ITV News, Sophie's sister Aimee said "she just wanted to look a million bucks".

Sophie's best friend, who also went for an aesthetic treatment, was discharged to a hotel in Turkey where she quickly developed necrosis - a condition caused when a lack of blood supply kills body tissue.

Aimee, who flew out to Turkey following her sister's death, said she walked to the friend's hotel room and was "heaving" at the smell of dying flesh.

"She was on the bed shivering, sweating, she was upset, she was saying she didn't want to die like my sister," Aimee said. "It was just horrible."

She added: "For me it's really important for someone that's considering doing this, is to at least have a real think about your life and what you want out of your life.

"And if a body, a bum or teeth, or whatever it is, is actually worth the risk of possibly losing your life."

'My mindset was, I must have this to survive'

Pinky Jolley has had sepsis four times since having a gastrectomy in Turkey last November.

After multiple delays in getting the procedure done on the NHS, she booked abroad. "My mindset was, I must have this to survive", she said.

Confident she had done her research, Pinky woke up after the operation in unmanageable pain. Her aftercare, which she says was via WhatsApp, didn't include any form of pain management and she said she can't remember anything of the journey home.

Since then, Pinky has needed two emergency operations on the NHS and has to use a feeding tube, which she fears she'll need for the rest of her life.

Speaking to ITV News, Pinky said while being treated for sepsis back in the UK, she was sharing an NHS ward with five other people who were also receiving corrective treatment for cosmetic surgery carried out in Turkey.

"It may cost my life," she said. "I have hope, but they have told me to prepare for the high possibility that I may never eat or drink again.

"I was looking for a better future, but my world got even smaller."

Sara woke up from surgery in 'incredible pain' and was left with a life-threatening infection. Credit: Sara Platt

'I felt like I was dying'

Sara Platt, 32, spent £15,000 in total on a package of procedures in Antalya, Turkey, and has since had to have nine emergency operations to correct what went wrong.

She told ITV News, surgeons in the UK "have never seen anything like my case", adding she now suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder from the ordeal.

The mother-of-four went abroad earlier this year and had paid for five operations, including a breast lift and an upper body lift.

When she woke up after the first surgery, during which she said she'd had five procedures carried out, she said: "I felt like I was dying."

Sara had to have corrective surgery in Antalya but claims she was awake for the procedure and was "screaming and screaming" for the surgeon to stop.

She said, despite the experience, she felt forced to give the clinic a positive review online so she would be granted a fit to fly certificate and allowed to travel home.

"People are dying," Sara told ITV News.

"This has broken me, this has totally destroyed me. I've missed out on things with my family and my children."

BAAPS, who works with patients like Sara, has started collating the UK's first ever database with the number of corrective procedures carried out in the UK after surgery abroad has gone wrong.

Previously, the body has estimated the cost to the NHS for each person is around £15,000 - but it stresses this varies significantly depending on the type and the extent of treatment needed.

The organisation, which represents plastic surgeons in the UK, has shared the first six months of its data collection with ITV News - and says the number needing NHS treatment is going up every day.

Since November last year, 78% of the corrective operations carried out in the UK have been on people who had aesthetic procedures in Turkey.

BAAPS President Marc Pacifico told ITV News "we are only scratching the surface" of the true number needing treatment, with concerns over the pressure this is having on an already-stretched health service with a record-high waiting list.

Patients returning from surgery abroad needing to corrective treatment is having 'a huge burden and a huge cost burden' on the NHS, says BAAPS President Marc Pacifico

In the four years to 2022, 324 patients required surgery once they returned home from countries abroad including Turkey, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

Mr Pacifico told ITV News one of the many problems is the prevalence of medical advice and support for people looking to go abroad is "drowned and dwarfed by the number of paid promotions and glossy advertisements for the cosmetic tourism market itself".

He added: "We're not trying to stop this, we're in no position to and nor is this what we're aiming for.

"We're aiming to try and raise awareness, increase safety, ultimately protect patients but also relieve the burden on the NHS."

Why are people going abroad for cosmetic surgery?

While going outside of the UK for cosmetic treatment isn't a new phenomenon, BAAPS says the so-called "Zoom Boom" during the pandemic led to a rise in the number of people wanting aesthetic treatment. Driven by a heightened awareness of appearing on screen, BAAPS believes this contributed towards a huge demand for aesthetic procedures with people seeking out cheaper deals abroad as the UK battles with a cost of living crisis.

A number of sites also offer prospective patients luxury accommodation before and after cosmetic surgery abroad, while several sell procedures as 'package deals' so customers can undergo more than one operation per visit. One visible trend in the cosmetic tourism trade is the 'mummy makeover', where new mothers can book a series of operations including tummy tucks, breast augmentations, facelifts and liposuction, at a cost of between six and eight thousand pounds in Turkey.

The adverts are glossy and make going abroad for treatment seem like a five-star holiday, something the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is monitoring closely.

The ASA has sanctioned several companies for adverts that have "trivialised" the act of travelling for aesthetic treatment, with one previously using the term "Summer sale" to advertise multiple treatments for a reduced cost.

"We know that consumers are increasingly looking at going abroad for cosmetic surgery due to cost or ease of access and, while many people may be happy with the results, there are still inherent risks. That’s why it’s so important that ads for these services aren’t misleading or irresponsible, and why this is a high priority area for the ASA," a spokesperson from the ASA told ITV News. "Advertisers targeting people in the UK need to ensure that they’re following the Code, even if the service isn’t based here. They mustn’t trivialise the decision to get cosmetic surgery and cannot advertise prescription-only medicines, such as Botox. "We’re aware that there are more ads for these kinds of services targeting British consumers, and we are taking action as a priority to ensure that consumers are protected from misleading and harmful ads in this sector.

"Earlier this year we banned two ads that promoted cosmetic surgery procedures in Türkiye which trivialised the decision to have surgery, put pressure on consumers to purchase and misleadingly omitted information about pre-consultations.

"Since then we’ve undertaken a sweep of other ads for cosmetic surgery abroad – we’re concerned by what we found and have launched a number of further investigations as a result, which are currently ongoing."

'My clear message to people is: do not go to Turkey for cosmetic surgery' - Labour's Kevan Jones backs calls for a crackdown on advertising for cosmetic surgery abroad

The figures have prompted calls from Labour MP Kevan Jones, who has similarly warned they are "only the tip of a large iceberg", exposing a trade where "mainly women are being butchered at the hands of these surgeons".

It's an issue Mr Jones said he has been raising for years with the help of campaigners. He said: "The government appears to be indifferent and uninterested in the appalling harm that is being caused to individuals and ignoring the cost on the NHS of correcting these botched operations. "To protect individuals and the NHS, the government needs to act now." ITV News contacted the Department of Health for a response to the figures collected by BAAPS. A spokesperson said: "All cosmetic procedures have risks and can affect people's health, and safety standards in other countries may not be as high as in the UK. "We urge anyone considering a cosmetic procedure abroad to do their research into the standards and qualifications that apply in the country they are travelling to. They should ensure adequate insurance arrangements are in place and that they have access to appropriate aftercare in the UK in the event of any complications." The Foreign Office currently advises people to do their research before travelling to Turkey for 'medical tourism'.

Its website states: "The standard of medical facilities and available treatments can vary widely globally. We are aware of 24 British nationals who have died in Turkey since January 2019 following medical procedures.

"There were reports of an outbreak of botulism linked to weight loss treatments performed in Istanbul and Izmir in February 2023. You can find further information about botulism in Turkey on TravelHealthPro."

If you've been affected after having cosmetic surgery abroad and want to share your story with ITV News, email yourstory@itv.com

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