Huge clampdown on Turkish clinics luring Brits abroad for cheap plastic surgery as regulator launches blitz to ban adverts flouting strict rules

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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The advertising watchdog has launched a crackdown on cosmetic surgery firms who lure Britons abroad for risky treatment.

The Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) said ‘too many’ overseas clinics are putting people at risk of harm by promoting their services irresponsibly.

It has started an ‘enhanced monitoring’ blitz to identify and tackle adverts that flout the UK’s strict rules and is demanding offenders ‘get their house in order’.

The action comes amid a rise in patients looking to travel abroad for the likes of liposuction, breast augmentation and ‘Brazilian butt lifts’.

It can be cheaper to go abroad for treatment and some firms seek to entice customers with package deals that include a ‘holiday’ and the procedure.

The Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) said ‘too many’ overseas clinics are putting people at risk of harm by promoting their services irresponsibly. Liposuction that offers to remove up to 15 litres of fat, BBL’s, eye colour changing laser treatments and hymenoplasties are all offered in clinics across Turkey

The action comes amid a rise in patients looking to travel abroad for the likes of liposuction, breast augmentation and 'Brazilian butt lifts'. Turkish clinics offer packages including VIP airport transfers in 'luxury vehicles' and 5-star hotel stays with breakfast. Some even promise free tours of cities like Istanbul and the choice to take another guest at no additional cost, as well as 24/7 emergency lines, overnight nurse visits and even massages

The action comes amid a rise in patients looking to travel abroad for the likes of liposuction, breast augmentation and ‘Brazilian butt lifts’. Turkish clinics offer packages including VIP airport transfers in ‘luxury vehicles’ and 5-star hotel stays with breakfast. Some even promise free tours of cities like Istanbul and the choice to take another guest at no additional cost, as well as 24/7 emergency lines, overnight nurse visits and even massages

But the CAP, which writes the UK advertising rules, said many adverts on social media downplay the risks of surgery, exaggerate the benefits and prey of people’s vulnerabilities.

Others appear to pressure people into making rash decisions with time-limited offers.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which enforces the CAP rules, upheld several complaints last year against overseas cosmetic surgery providers who were targeting UK consumers.

It said the offending material featured in paid-for adverts or was promoted by influencers on the like of Instagram and Facebook

The CAP will today issue overseas cosmetic surgery providers with an Enforcement Notice, which sets out the rules and the enforcement action it can take.

Which offending ads did the Advertising Standards Authority uphold complaints against? 

ASA investigations have led to thirteen ads targeting people in the UK from  being banned. These include:

Aestheal Clinic

A paid-for Facebook ad for Aestheal Clinic promoting cosmetic surgery in Turkey was flagged in May 2023.

The ad said: ‘Now you can get the perfect body that you have always dreamed of. Aestheal Hospital offers you its best offers in the following plastic surgeries.’

ASA considered the use of the words ‘perfect’ and ‘dreamed of’ could create unrealistic expectations of what could be achievable. 

Erdem Clinic

A paid-for Facebook ad flagged in May 2023 said: ‘Don’t let your nose overshadow your face. Get the look you dream of with Nose Job treatment. Choose to be the greater beauty that you can be.’

It also offered ‘up to 30 per cent discounts on combined operations’. 

ASA concluded the ad was ‘socially irresponsible’ and ‘misled’ consumers over the complexity of the operation, length of recovery time and pain experienced either during or after the procedure. 

GET DHI Hair Clinic

A paid-for Facebook ad flagged in May 2023 advertised hair transplants with the caption: ‘Holiday and treatment same price – Better than UK prices – DHI technique – Maximum grafts in one session.’

ASA said there was ‘no evidence’ to substantiate the ad’s effectiveness claims and the emphasis on travel ‘was likely to detract from the seriousness of the surgery offered’. 

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The organisation said: ‘We’ve seen an increase in ads targeting UK consumers for these services and, while some are following the rules, we’re also seeing too many examples that are not.

‘Cosmetic surgery is a serious decision and ads should reflect that.

‘While many people travelling abroad for surgery will have a good experience, as with any procedure there’s always a chance that things can go wrong.

‘Botched surgery can lead to significant, life-changing harms and, in worst case scenarios, death.

‘Within our role and remit, we’re committed to ensuring ads for these services are responsible.

‘That’s why we’re sending out this Enforcement Notice, telling clinics to get their houses in order.

‘We won’t hesitate to impose sanctions against ads that break our rules.’

The CAP said adverts must be responsible, not make claims that cannot be backed up with sufficient evidence or use social pressure of times offers to encourage people into getting surgery.

The ASA has banned 13 adverts by overseas cosmetic surgery clinics that were targeting people in the UK.

The ads broke a number of rules, including failing to make potential risks clear; trivialising the decision to undergo surgery; making misleading claims around safety; and making misleading claims about the credentials of doctors.

The Enforcement Notice says firms should avoid placing the focus of their averts on hotel stays, flights or holidays, rather than the surgery itself, as this could have the effect of ‘detracting from the seriousness of any surgery’.

It also warns against promising customers the ‘body you have always dreamed of’ and says all before and after photos should be genuine.

The CAP said it will work with social media firms to remove adverts that breach its rules and report offending firms to regulators in their own country if they fail to comply.

Shahriar Coupal, Secretary of CAP, said: ‘Every year, many people go abroad and have positive experiences undergoing cosmetic surgery. 

‘But as more companies are advertising to UK customers, we’re also seeing more examples of the rules being broken. This needs to stop.

British surgeons have raised the alarm about the rising NHS multi-million bill of fixing botched cosmetic ops performed overseas, with costing the NHS an estimated £100,000 alone

British surgeons have raised the alarm about the rising NHS multi-million bill of fixing botched cosmetic ops performed overseas, with costing the NHS an estimated £100,000 alone

‘We don’t regulate the service these clinics offer, but we do regulate their ads when they target UK consumers.

‘This Enforcement Notice makes it clear to advertisers that they need to ensure their ads are up to scratch.

‘They need to follow our rules, or we’ll impose sanctions to protect audiences from their ads.’

Health minister Maria Caulfield said: ‘All cosmetic procedures carry risks and this is an important step in cracking down on irresponsible adverts aimed at vulnerable people in the UK.

‘The new guidance will help ensure all adverts adhere to our strict advertising rules and clearly sign-post potential risks.

‘I urge anyone considering a medical procedure abroad to research the standards and qualifications that apply in the country they are travelling to before making a decision.’

The red flags of getting cosmetic surgery abroad

All surgery carries risk, but it is important to do your research before hopping on a plane to get cheap plastic surgery. 

Although it can cost less than getting surgery in the UK, you need to bear in mind that the safety standards may not be the same. 

Holiday packages 

You should be cautious of any website that sell cosmetic surgery as part of a holiday, the NHS warns. 

Some websites sell the idea of sightseeing alongside hotels with breakfast included. 

NHS advice adds that if you are looking at holiday packages make sure you have a consultation with a surgeon and don’t just meet a salesperson. 

The health service adds that you should not pay to see a surgeon you have never met.  

The Royal College of Surgeons of England also echoes the NHS’s concerns and advises to not agree to cosmetic surgery before meeting the surgeon and visiting the hospital.

UK plastic surgeon Veerle Rotsaert said: ‘Travelling long-haul overseas to have surgery done, followed by no proper aftercare, that’s where often things go wrong.

‘Often third party agencies sell surgery without any surgeon ever seeing the patient in person and having a proper consultation until it is actually surgery day.’

Extra costs

Many of the surgeries offered overseas in countries such as Turkey are more affordable than private clinics in the UK.

However, there could be hidden costs. 

The Royal College of Surgeons of England urges people to consider the cost for additional flights and hotel stays for future corrective, or touch-up procedures.

It also warns patients to consider what might happen overseas if they pay ahead of time but change their mind before the operation as their right to a refund could vary in different countries. 

Choosing the right surgeon

Surgeons and clinics are regulated differently in different countries and standards can vary.

Before traveling abroad for surgery the NHS says you should ask if the surgeon is fully trained in the surgery you want and how long they have been practicing for. 

The surgeon should also be fully insured to carry out the surgery you want, says the Royal College of Surgeons of England. It suggests asking to see details of the surgeons insurance. 

It is also vital you have a proper consultation with your surgeon before you consent to having the surgery, experts warn.

Risks of flying 

Flying and having major surgery increases your risk of getting a blood clot, which can be life threatening. 

As a result, the NHS warns people should wait five to seven days to fly after procedures such as breast surgery and liposuction and wait seven to 10 days to fly after facial cosmetic procedures or tummy tucks.

However, some surgeons suggest waiting between two to six weeks before flying depending on the procedure. 

Dr Rotsaert explained: ‘This is because first of all, you want patients to stay relatively close to their surgeon in case of any immediate post-op issues.’

He added: Secondly because of the deep vein thrombosis/pulmonary embolism risk associated with the act of surgery, it’s aftermath, as well as prolonged immobilisation.’

Drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and walking about during your flight can help circulation, but this doesn’t completely remove the risk of a blood clot especially having major surgery, the British Association of Plastic Reconstruction and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS). 

Aftercare

Follow up care after your surgery is an important part of your treatment. But traveling abroad can make it more complicated. 

Before getting surgery outside of the UK consider how long it would take you to travel back to your surgeon if there is a complication, says the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Make sure you have a contact for a named doctor that can deal with any complications, rather than a helpline, experts warn. 

You need to also make sure the clinic will deal with any problems and that they will help if you are not happy with your outcome. 

In many cases the NHS will not help you unless you have a serious complication which requires emergency or life-saving support. 

Source: NHS, BAPRAS and Royal College of Surgeons England. 

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