As demand for cosmetic surgery has increased, so too has the number of claims for compensation from patients who have suffered adverse outcomes.
Most, but not all, procedures are carried out privately. The MDU, the largest provider of medical indemnity insurance to doctors in the UK, reported in June 2006 that they had paid out £8.5 million in compensation and legal costs over the previous ten years to patients harmed by cosmetic surgery procedures. The majority of claims were made by patients who had undergone breast and facial surgery. Scarring and infections were the next biggest factors behind claims. Settlements ranged from a few hundred pounds to over £300,000.
The Denise Hendry case reported on the Michelmores site on 17 November 2006 recovered damages of £300,00.00 after she underwent a £2,400 liposuction operation at a private clinic in 2002. During the operation the surgeon punctured her bowel and colon nine times, as a result of which she suffered septicaemia and multiple failure of her vital organs. In another well publicised case, Celebrity Big Brother contestant Pete Burns has commenced proceedings against his cosmetic surgeon who is alleged to have botched his lip augmentation operation. Pete Burns claims that the side-effects of the operation included painful swelling, blistering, heavy discharge and restricted ability to eat, drink and speak. He has undergone more than one hundred surgical procedures over 17 months in an attempt to remove the solution from his lips, and he claims the damage is so severe doctors have warned him his lips may have to be amputated.
Clinics offer an enormous range of cosmetic surgery procedures. Figures released by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) listed the most popular operations in 2006 showing how numbers compared with 2005. Overall, there was an annual increase of 35% in the number of operations carried out in 2006 over the previous year.
Other popular procedures include Botox, blepharoplasty (bags under eyes), breast enlargement, stretch-mark and cellulite treatments, dermabrasion and lip augmentation. BUPA has recently reported that one patient in ten undergoing a cosmetic operation at BUPA hospitals was over the age of 61.
Various forms of cosmetic surgery are now proving popular for men as well as women. Operations to increase size of the penis and to restore the foreskin are also becoming more common. All forms of such surgery involve risk for the patient.
Many procedures are invasive and involve full-scale surgical operations carried out under general or local anaesthetic. The practice of cosmetic surgery is strikingly different from other fields of medicine. Many treatments are sold and described on TV and in popular magazines as a "commodity" and the concern is that clinics and practitioners do not adequately explain the associated risks. Because of the way these operations are marketed, patients, understandably keen to improve their appearance or to look younger and more attractive, may find themselves with unrealistic expectations.
These operations are lucrative for the clinics, and there is a worrying tendency to pressurise patients into going ahead with surgery. Michelmores feels there should be a heavy onus on the doctor or clinic to ensure a detailed pre-operative assessment of the patient by a suitably-qualified practitioner,r in which the indications for surgery and any contra-indications are made clear to the patient. The patient should be warned of the risks and informed of other treatment options. The patient needs to be aware of the complication rates and, in the absence of opportunity for discussion with his or her general practitioner, many experts feel that there should ideally be a cooling-off period, during which the patient can reflect on this information before deciding whether or not to proceed.
Risks of cosmetic surgery include:
Long-term study of many of these operations is not available.
In 2005, the Department of Health issued guidance to those contemplating cosmetic and plastic surgery operations, as well as plans for improved training for cosmetic surgeons. The government watchdog, the Healthcare Commission, has also now turned its attention to the cosmetic surgery sector and has been critical of the standards found in some clinics offering these potentially hazardous operations.
Cosmetic surgery is known to be habit-forming. Dr Eileen Bradbury, Consultant Psychologist at the Alexandra Hospital, Cheadle, near Manchester, an acknowledged expert in body dysmorphic disorder, regularly treats patients who have become addicted to cosmetic operations and is concerned that many of those who undergo these procedures have not been informed and counselled as to the risks.
A bad outcome for the patient does not automatically mean that the clinic or practitioner has been negligent. In many cases the problem is not so much that the surgery was performed negligently, but that it should not have been carried out for this particular patient in the first place. Michelmores has particular concern over the adequacy of warnings, if any, given to patients wishing to undergo these procedures. If consent to the surgery has been procured on the basis of incomplete or inadequate information, clinics and practitioners may face legal actions for assault, as well as claims for damages, for negligence and breach of contract.
A disturbing trend is the availability of cosmetic operations at overseas clinics currently being advertised on the internet and in magazines. Although producing a saving for the patient, there are additional risks that make this a potentially hazardous option. It may be impossible to check the experience and credentials of the surgeon: the surgeon and clinic may be uninsured; the clinic may not be equipped to deal with the serious complications, and emergencies that can occur and the patient might find it extremely difficult if not impossible to seek redress in the UK if the operation goes wrong.
Damages will vary according to the injuries and complications suffered and the victim's particular circumstances.
If you would like to discuss a medical negligence claim relating to cosmetic surgery claims in confidence, please contact us for discreet and impartial advice.