With much fanfare and media coverage, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) reported this week that the number of cosmetic procedures in the UK dropped by 9% in 2014.
Breast augmentations down 23% (to 8600), nose jobs down 24%, tummy tucks down 20%. The only procedure showing increased interest being liposuction (up 7%). To the casual observer, it looks like the death knell for an industry many would not mourn the passing of.
Commenting on the figures, consultant plastic surgeon Mr Rajiv Grover attributed it to greater discernment amongst the public and also patients opting for a more natural "less is more" look. Both laudible and logical sentiments, however, like most things you read about - there's maybe more to it than meets the eye.
Contrary to the picture painted by BAAPS (who's members undertake only a proportion of all cosmetic surgery in UK), at Transform the picture we see is markedly different. This very month, we have seen close to record traffic to our website, with around 7500 potential patients seeking a consultation. Now, of course, not all those patients will go ahead. Some will choose another provider, some may change their mind altogether, many more (around 1/3rd) will be deemed unsuitable for surgery. Nonetheless, 7500 enquiries in one month, for a single provider is an indicator of a public appetite for cosmetic surgery that's far from on the wane.
As far as "boob jobs" go, far from being 23% down, from our own experience the number of breast enlargement operations are pretty static (Transform undertake around 5000 operations p.a.) and another high provider reports on its website 2014 figures that are likely to extrapolate to around 2000 operations. 7,000 operations from just two providers seems to place doubt on the 8000 operations nationally reported.
The explanation of all this contradictory information is perhaps more simple.
The figures trumpeted by BAAPS are nothing more than an audit of their members. It's also no more than a reflection of the number of patients choosing to go to a BAAPS surgeon and the procedures their surgeons perform.
For example, Liposuction (growing at 7% p.a. remember) is far from the most popular procedure at Transform. Realising this, we've investing in two Vaser Lipo machines (arriving next month!) and have a number of our most accomplished surgeons in our Manchester & London hospitals undertaking training in preparation to launch this service. We will undoubtedly see 7% growth (hopefully much much more) over the coming months, but not because lipo is more popular. It just means we've put in place the clinical infrastructure required to satisfy patients.
In this way, the "decline" of breast enlargement or nose jobs is more likely down to patients simply electing to go elsewhere for their surgery - to Transform, another provider, or even abroad (no matter how ill advised that can be).
Increasingly, patients are seeing the benefits of providers like Transform. We've lead the way in the democratisation of cosmetic surgery. Having our own hospitals & clinical infrastructure contributes to better value for patients - without any compromise to their clinical care (last year, there were zero instances of MRSA, C-Difficile or E-coli reported in either of our two hospitals).
All of which brings us to what really matters (which isn't the numbers of patients having surgery). What matters is the clinical care afforded to patients - and their outcomes. Nowhere in this weeks coverage was there reference to the infection levels in the 45,000 patients recorded. Nor will you find details of revision rates (Transform's has been steady around 5% for 4 years). There's scant detail on what surgeon's have practising privileges for (we fully list ours on each surgeon's profile). You won't find the results of CQC (Care Quality Commission) inspections of clinics or hospitals (Transform's are readily published). We also have a 360 deg. patient feedback process in place ("Tell Transform"). If there's not enough tuna in your tuna melt, we want to put that right too!
These issues of patient attentiveness are what need addressing - and transparency thereof. Not just some annual audit that doesn't really audit anything.
It's only through greater awareness of the sector having it's house in order that public confidence will grow. And when that happens, the greater confidence will fuel further growth for BAAPS members, for Transform and other providers - with happier, better informed patients.
Mark Norfolk is Clinical Director at Transform