The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons consistently advises against travelling abroad for any kind of surgery, not just cosmetic. They counsel that all surgical procedures carry risks, even when performed by a reputable surgeon in the UK. They also state that the possibility of complications increases considerably with travel, which limits the availability of aftercare .
Realistically, some UK residents will choose to travel for treatment and require appropriate advice and counselling about the associated risks.
Individuals of all ages and social groups travel for treatment . Most medical tourism is arranged and funded by travellers themselves. Private agencies usually refer tourists to hospitals and clinics, with flights and accommodation often included as part of a package.
In some situations, such as delays in treatment, the NHS may agree to pay for treatment in European Economic Area countries. However, this is very unusual and would not usually cover dental care or plastic surgery.
Whist specific risks of medical tourism depend on regions visited and procedures performed, some general issues have been identified:
- Antibiotic resistance is a global problem and resistant bacteria may be more common in some regions.
- Communication may be a problem.
- Medication can be counterfeit or poor quality in some countries.
- Risk of exposure to blood borne diseases, such as hepatitis B and HIV, may be increased due to potential re-use of medical equipment or inadequate blood collection, screening and storage in destination countries [5, 6].
The medical tourism industry is almost entirely unregulated and this has potential risks for those travelling out of the UK. Existing information regarding medical tourism is variable and there is no authoritative and trustworthy single source of information .
Individuals diagnosed with progressive or chronic illnesses may be vulnerable to exploitation by providers of unproven interventions abroad. Patients travelling for untested treatment can be exposed to additional safety risks due to the nature of the intervention and may face high financial burdens for potentially ineffective treatment .
Long distance air travel post-surgery is thought to heighten risk for deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. Individuals travelling for organ transplantation may experience higher rates of severe infectious complications because of inadequate screening protocols overseas .
Many countries with robust medical tourism programme are in tropical and subtropical regions where malaria, dengue fever, enteric fever and other endemic infections exist. Many have high background rates of antibiotic resistance, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and TB .