Biggest figures in plastic surgery since recession … but is this welcome news?


By Lynn Malone
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps), released figures this week that suggest a huge increase in the popularity of plastic surgery in the UK – with breast augmentation hitting the number one spot.  These figures, they claim, show an impressive rise in demand for various procedures since the start of the recession in 2008.
Britain, apparently, is booming. 

Rajiv Grover, who is a consultant plastic surgeon and president of Baaps, said: “Both the UK economy and the British public seem to be well on the way to regaining their shape with the most impressive rise in demand for cosmetic surgery we have seen since the onset of the recession in 2008.”

The number of people undergoing cosmetic procedures from anti-aging to liposuction hit 50,000 for the first time in the UK.  Of this figure, 90% were female – the highest total ever recorded.

The ‘lipstick’ effect, the name given to the economic phenomenon of increased sales of lipstick, perfume and other affordable feel good products during hard times seems to have branched out.  It has developed into cosmetic surgery as the doom and gloom grows.

For some it is an outlet that shows light at the end of the tunnel.  Psychology experiments have certainly confirmed that while tougher economic times decrease desire for most items, they also reliably increase people’s need for products that boost their attractiveness.  Well, for those that can afford it.

Cosmetic surgery is always a huge focus of the media, but what I find worrying is the way cosmetic surgery and in particular silicone breast implants, continue to be sanitised despite being cloaked in scandal.   Even after the most recent revelations – the Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) breast implant scandal – which caused worldwide concern about safety, people are still willing to go ahead with the procedure which has seen a 13% increase in numbers in 2013.

There was an international health scare when it was discovered that the firm had been selling breast implants containing industrial silicone.  Some of the women were given the faulty implants during breast reconstruction surgery after having breast cancer.  It was found the material used for the implants was substandard, non-authorised and not fit for humans.  The founder of PIP, Jean-Claude Mas, was jailed in December 2013 for four years at a court in Marseille.

The women involved in the UK and Scotland, around 47,000, were vilified amid heated arguments about who should pay for their removal as 95% of those affected had the surgery carried out privately.

The whole issue fills me with bemusement and despair.  Although not a crusader against cosmetic surgery, I believe it is a very personal and individual right; the idea of people not having informed consent about a device being put into their body does pique me.  My sister died after having breast implant surgery on the NHS and was never told of any dangers.

Many experts believe it was silicone poisoning that killed her but the medical profession and UK government would never admit to it.  Ann was 49 when she died but had suffered for years.

She was obsessed with her inability to live up to the female ideal and consequently suffered, from, I now realise, mental health issues.  She was depressed, felt worthless and after waiting seven years on the NHS waiting list, was given her implants.

She had her operation in 1988 at a hospital in Glasgow and died nine years later after much pain and argument from her and denial by the medics.  She died, apparently, of nothing.

Initially her new breasts looked great but within months had turned into hard lumps and left her in agony.  The NHS replaced them three times, surely a sign of a device gone wrong, but refused to admit any liability or indeed later that they had been in any way instrumental in her death.

She died a horrific death in 1997 when she developed blood clots throughout her body, suffered three heart attacks and was in so much pain that she asked family to kill her before being put into a drug induced coma.  She died soon after.  We looked on helpless and were bewildered as the medical staff told us they had no idea what to put on her death certificate, she had so many things wrong with her and yet all the tests carried out had come back negative.

Following her death, confused and angry, I started to ask questions and eventually became involved in a campaign with others affected by the issues surrounding this type of surgery.  We wanted the government to look into the safety of silicone gel breast implants and for women to be told about the risks they posed.  We hoped they would be banned considering the evidence gathered.

It was suggested from various sources that we back off as the campaign grew and politicians and the media began to take notice.  I was advised from a source in Westminster that I should “walk away from this” and a well-known and very outspoken Labour MP at the time told me to be careful as I was attacking the economy.  This was due to some implants being produced by a factory which employed disabled workers and was subsidised by the UK government meaning they received a flow back of cash.

Many experts claimed there was scientific evidence showing silicone is a biologically active and toxic substance and that implants can produce autoimmune illnesses.

In 1997 the Independent Review Group (IRG) was established following concerns by women about silicone gel breast implants and their effects.   Many concerns were from women in Scotland.

At the request of the Minister for Health, Baroness Jay, The Chief Medical Officer at the time set the group up to review the evidence relating to the health risks associated with silicone gel breast implants.

They said that: “In fulfilling the remit, the IRG took a fresh look at the existing and emerging scientific evidence for a link between silicone gel breast implants and effects on health.”

Of course they never had any intention of banning them, in fact a further 11,000 women were implanted while the review was taking place.  If they had been banned then those women may have been able to sue.  Campaigners felt as though it was a cover up, not unusual considering what went before: Thalidomide, Gulf war syndrome, BSE.

Those affected still laugh with irony at the term ‘independent’ because it never happened.   It was organised by the UK government, was an all-male panel and one of them had already written a paper arguing there was no connection between silicone implants and the specific diseases women were developing.

They had already made their minds up, it was in the bag.  The promise to include ‘a wider audience’ including those and families affected by silicone implants never came to fruition.

My sister’s death was widely publicised, yet I was never called to give evidence as were many others.  What happened was that the go-ahead was given to continue with silicone breast implants and the evidence suppressed.

It’s no wonder then that cosmetic surgery continues to be a growth industry despite the continued horror stories that come out.