What to do when cosmetic surgery goes wrong

You only have to flick through the pages of any glamour or lifestyle magazine to be greeted with what many consider to be the ultimate definition of ‘perfection’ – flawless skin, perfect cleavages and bodies to die for. Of course, what one person considers to be “perfect” might well vary massively from what another person has in mind but, whatever “perfection” looks like, it certainly encourages increasingly more of us to quite literally go under the knife in search of it.

With cosmetic surgeons now offering much more affordable payment plans, increasingly more patients are taking the plunge and putting all their faith into their cosmetic surgeon at whatever price it ultimately costs. In fact, during 2008 alone, over 34,000 surgical procedures were performed across the UK, with those numbers having tripled since 2003.

However, whilst most patients are satisfied with the ultimate outcome, what happens when things go horribly wrong?

In this article we’ll be taking a closer look at what you can do when things don’t go quite the way they should.


What sort of surgery can I have?

There are primarily two different types of surgery – ‘reconstructive plastic surgery’, which is used to correct abnormal structures of the body – and ‘cosmetic surgery’, which involves reshaping certain parts of the body which are otherwise functioning properly.

Patients elect to have cosmetic surgery for all sorts of reasons and the range of treatments varies massively – from relatively simple botox, right through to breast enlargement, complete facelifts and tummy tucks.

What’s more, increasingly more males are also opting-in when it comes to cosmetic enhancements and currently account for around 18% of all cosmetic surgery across the UK; particularly with treatments such as ‘Sweatox’ (an anti-sweat alternative), breast reduction and brow lifts.


What should I think about before I opt for cosmetic surgery?

It perhaps goes without saying that if you’re looking to make a permanent change to your body then you need to be more than well informed as to what can (and can’t) be realistically achieved.

To do this you should consult at least two or three different consultants, before deciding on which one to choose, and above all else, ensure that your surgeon is fully qualified. You can do this by checking the Specialist Register of Plastic Surgeons, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (‘BAAPS’) or the General Medical Council – all of whom offer user-friendly, online facilities and can also be contacted via their telephone helplines.

Prior to having surgery, it’s also advisable to consult the Department of Health’s website which offers very positive advice in terms of what to expect from cosmetic surgery. For example, they quite specifically examine whether patients expect the procedure to completely change their lives – as well as their appearance – and whether the latter will ultimately improve their general sense of wellbeing.

Having cosmetic surgery obviously has a very permanent outcome and decisions should never be entered into lightly so be sure to do your homework, attend at least two consultations with your surgeon and think very hard about the end result you’re looking to achieve.


What can I do if something goes wrong?

Unfortunately – and as with any other cosmetic procedure – things sometimes can (and do) go wrong.

If, after having surgery, you’re even remotely unhappy about any aspect of your treatment then it’s important you raise this with your surgeon straightaway. It’s completely pointless simply ‘waiting and seeing’ whether you’ll get used to it, whether it might somehow rectify itself or it’s just ‘one of those things’. If you’re not happy (no matter how minor your concern might be) then make your feelings known and if possible, do it in writing. After all, it’s highly likely you’ll have paid a considerable amount of money for the treatment – and had your own reasons for opting into it – so it naturally goes without saying that you need to at least be pleased with the end result.

In some cases, it may be that the treatment site needs time to settle (although any good surgeon will have warned you about this prior to having the surgery). If this is the case, then take your surgeon’s advice but certainly don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you’re still not quite convinced. Your surgeon might also suggest revisional surgery if you’re not entirely happy with the results but this will very much depend on the type of treatment you’ve had done – and what can be improved upon (if anything).

As with any other medical provider, your cosmetic surgeon should have a written complaints procedure so if you remain dissatisfied with your treatment you should ask for a copy of it. However, if you’re still unable to reach an agreeable outcome you should seek advice from BAAPS who have their own complaints procedure (and if you’ve chosen wisely, will have your surgeon already registered with them).

The main purpose of BAAPS is to promote excellence in aesthetic cosmetic surgery and they have a strict requirement that all their members (currently standing at over 300) follow their code of practice and ethics to reduce the risk of different procedures made available to patients.

If, having exhausted all other avenues, you decide to make a claim against your surgeon, then it’s advisable to seek legal advice at the soonest opportunity. Increasingly more law firms now specialise in claims relating to cosmetic surgery and most of these operate on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis. This means that you’ll be able to get legal advice without having to pay for the advice up front. The only exception to this will usually be standard disbursements, such as Court fees or medical expert expenses. Ultimately, however, should your claim be unsuccessful then you won’t be liable for your solicitor fees (and these are covered by their own insurance policy).

Once you consult your solicitor it’s likely that he or she will ask for certain information which might typically include some or all of the following:

  • Full details of your treatment plan i.e. what was discussed at your initial consultation, what you understood the outcome would be and how you feel that your surgeon has fallen short of this expectation.


  • Details of any personal injury sustained as a result of the treatment and/or any permanent effects arising from it.


  • What sort of losses you’ve already suffered as a result of the treatment – for example, any time off work, prescription charges and so on.

Once your solicitor has done a full evaluation of your potential claim he or she is likely to recommend that you obtain an independent medical report and will then commence formal legal action. This typically starts with a ‘letter of claim’ or ‘letter before action’ which will be sent to your surgeon, putting them on notice that you intend to make a claim and setting out your legal basis for doing so. It’s always advisable to proof read this letter before your solicitor sends it out as it can be difficult to retract or change information about your claim once it’s been submitted. It can also have potential to discredit your claim – and that’s certainly not a position you want to be in, particularly at the very beginning of the process.

What happens beyond that very much depends on whether your surgeon accepts, or defends, your claim. Fortunately, most claims of this nature settle out of Court and this can certainly have its benefits – not only from a cost perspective, but also without having the stress of legal proceedings when you might well be attempting to recover from the surgery and/or are having to take time off work. Either way, your solicitor will be able to advise you more fully depending on your personal circumstances but it can certainly be very beneficial to remain open to any initial offers of settlement.



Whilst the majority of people recommend having cosmetic surgery to others – and even opt to have it on more than one occasion – you should always remain mindful of the many risks associated with it and make an informed decision prior to having it done. Suffice it to say that whilst compensation can help put you back into the same financial position as you would have been had the surgery not taken place, no amount of money can ever compensate for long-lasting physical injuries and/or the need for ongoing remedial treatment.

Unfortunately, the consequences of medical negligence can be devastating so if you find yourself needing to make a claim, so ensure that you know your facts and enlist the support of a good solicitor to help you claim back what you’re rightfully entitled to.