Buy one, get one free on breast ops

The Sunday Times Published 15 July 2012 Lois Rogers

COSMETIC surgeons are offering supermarket-style discounts for multiple breast enlargements, nose jobs and fat-removal operations in order to boost business.

Mothers and daughters are among groups of women being attracted by “buy one, get one half-price” style offers. Online shopping carts and time-limited no-refund special offers are also being used.

Alarmed by the trend, specialists from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons have met officials from the General Medical Council (GMC), which sets standards for doctors, to demand greater sanctions to control the practice.

“We are not selling white goods or hairdressing services,” said Nigel Mercer, a former association president and incoming president of the European Association of Societies of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “This is unethical and is happening on a huge scale. People should not be touting for business by telling people they will get a discount if they bring their mum or their next-door neighbour along.”

Mercer said clinics, aware that customers are strongly influenced by the views of family and friends, are offering increasingly attractive discounts for women, including mothers and daughters, to generate revenue.

Janet Webb, 53, from Leyland, Lancashire, an office manager, and her daughter Michelle, a 25-year-old dental nurse, bought “four breast implants for the price of three” by negotiating a more than £400 reduction when they both booked breast-enlargement operations.

“I did ask if we could have a bogof [buy one, get one free] deal, but they said no, although I think they knocked off the cost of one of the actual implants,” said Webb.

The procedure, conducted by a Manchester branch of the Transform clinic chain, cost each woman about £3,500 instead of almost £3,800. Webb insisted the discount had not influenced their decision.

Transform said the number of relatives inquiring about cosmetic procedures together had increased by 26% over the past year. It declined to comment on whether heavy discounting for multiple procedures had contributed to the rise.

Elaine Streeton, 50, a former bank cashier from South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, and her daughter Charlotte, 24, received a £25 discount when they both had laser treatment.

“I don’t think you should have surgical operations just for vanity, but now we have broken the taboo about treatment we may go back,” said Streeton. “Charlotte wants a boob job and a nose job.”

The Streetons’ treatment was carried out by the Harley Medical Group. One of its advertisements says: “Recommend a friend for a surgical procedure and choose from £100 cash, or a £200 discount on a future procedure . . . Your friend will receive £100 off their surgical procedure too.”

Harley Medical Group said demand for treatment by mothers and daughters had risen 12% in the past two years and discount offers were “in keeping with our own ethical standards as well as the guidelines set by the General Medical Council”.

Guidelines on what constitutes an unethical inducement by a doctor to persuade a patient to seek treatment are seen by critics as too vague.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “Doctors promoting their services to the public must do so responsibly. We do not specifically prohibit discounts for medical services, but we make clear that in publishing information about their services, doctors must not put pressure on patients to use that service.”

Other clinics are using Amazon-style online “shopping carts” or time-limited no-refund special offers to entice women to select surgical treatments. Sarah Burge, a beautician from St Neots, Cambridgeshire, provides a referral service for cosmetic-surgery clinics and says inquiries from mothers and daughters are common, with special offers often the decisive factor.

“They are being offered Tesco-style two-for-one deals,” she said. “The mother in her forties wants a facelift, and the daughter in her twenties is having a boob job.”

Burge, who receives treatment vouchers for her referrals, said she is saving them so her daughter Poppy, 9, can eventually have a breast enlargement.

Last month, a GP who had branched out into cosmetic work became the first doctor to be found guilty of misconduct for offering discounted cosmetic treatment.

Aamer Khan, who offered three women a £5,100 deal for liposuction fat removal if they agreed to undergo the treatment as a “job lot”, had 10 conditions imposed on his medical practice. He said: “I refute the GMC’s findings and am appealing their decision.”