Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Plastic Surgery – Pitfalls lurking in the small print

Plastic surgery has become a consumer purchase for many people and with loans available to cover the cost and easy payment options together with ‘special offers’, more people are tempted to undergo cosmetic procedures.  However, the decisions involved need to be considered carefully both from a medical and legal perspective.

When something goes wrong with Plastic surgery, the technical difficulties of pursuing a claim are further compounded by problems in recovering the award of compensation, even where there is a judgement from a court.

What is often unclear to the purchaser of these services is that while the hospital provides services including theatre facilities and staff the contract in respect of the operation itself is often direct with the surgeon.  While the paperwork signed is often with the hospital, the purchaser may not uncover the small print until much later.  It has also become popular for foreign Plastic Surgeons to operate in the UK – flying in for operating lists and leaving the country again.

All of this can then lead to difficulty if a claim is made with various problems potentially arising as follows:

  • A Surgeon covered by indemnity insurance which is in a foreign country and the insurer is either refusing to co-operate or pay out
  • A Surgeon who has no permanent UK base and who fails to co-operate with the legal process.
  • The hospital refusing to co-operate with disclosure of insurance details
  • Valid insurance not being utilised by the Doctor and there being no means of forcing the doctor to do so.
  • Obtaining Judgement and being unable to enforce it.
  • A Surgeon offering corrective surgery on an ex gratia basis or to refund the cost of surgery but this being inadequate recompense because the additional hospital costs are not met independently by the Surgeon and they remain unable to pay the victim.
  • If Judgement is entered against an absent Doctor who is not engaged in the legal process, then being compelled to proceed through protracted and often fruitless enforcement.

One of the difficulties is that there is no statutory structure compelling a Doctor to utilise valid insurance in settling a claim or when engaging in a litigation process. In order to undertake plastic surgery in the UK a Doctor (and that includes foreign doctors) requires a license to practice.

It is a requirement for a licence to practise to be issued by the GMC that a Doctor has in place proper insurance cover.

However, there is no statutory provision for policing the insurance arrangement and even if a practitioner has a valid policy of insurance, there is nothing to compel them to use that insurance if they are faced with a claim.

Marguarita Tyne, Partner, Clinical Negligence Department, Clarke Willmott says:

“My colleagues and I have experience both directly and indirectly of at least half a dozen cases within the last three to four years involving clearly sub-standard surgery, where the Claimant has been denied adequate means of redress….It is sadly all too common for successful Claimants to end up with no prospect of financial recovery having resorted to every means available to try and enforce a legitimate judgement

Plastic Surgeons from the UK and abroad can only operate under a UK issued Licence to Practise, issued by the GMC and because private hospitals contract with them. Most Plastic Surgeons operate to very high standards and offer an appropriate means of redress if something goes wrong. However, the general public are simply not aware that if there is an adverse surgical outcome, as a result of sub-standard surgery,  there are circumstances where it is very difficult to recover compensation. The issue needs to have a much higher profile, backed by legislative action, particularly given the popularity of these types of treatment.”