Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Final project report now available: "Sun, Sea, Sand and Silicone: Mapping Cosmetic Surgery Tourism"

The final report for the ESRC-funded 'Sun, Sea, Sand and Silicone Aesthetic Surgery Tourism' project, led by Prof Ruth Holliday (University of Leeds, UK), is now available online.  Check out: 

Executive Summary:
This multi-site, mixed methods project charted the experiences of British, Chinese and Australian patients travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery tourism is a fast developing industry that incorporates novel forms of labour and organisational structures that cross national boundaries, as well as drawing together pre-existing medical and tourism infrastructure. 

While medical tourism has often been characterised as wealthy patients from the global south travelling to the global north for high quality medical treatment unavailable at home, cosmetic surgery patients often travel from global north to global south, but these patients are on modest incomes. Despite this they can sometimes access upmarket private hospitals beyond their reach back home, made possible by favourable currency rates, cheap flights and lower labour costs outside the richest countries in the world.UK and Australian patients travelled for surgeries that were popular back home – such as breast augmentation and uplift, ‘tummy tuck’,rhinoplasty and liposuction. Others travel regionally, for example within Europe, often also motivated by cost savings. 

There are important exceptions to this pattern: Chinese patients travelling to South Korea access more expensive but high quality cosmetic surgery unavailable back home. Here patients from abroad often seek particular types of surgery prevalent amongst South Koreans, for example eye or jawbone surgery, or high tech surgery, such as breast augmentation using the patient’s own fat and stem cells. Patients therefore travel from global north to global south, across regional borders, and many are also ex-patriates. UK patients in Spain were most usually already living in Southern Spain or Gibraltar. 

Monitoring the movements of cosmetic surgery tourists is important in predicting health tourism in the future. As public healthcare systems are increasingly squeezed, patients become consumers in search of cut price procedures, taking on the risks of the choices they make. This research aimed to broaden understandings of surgical tourist experiences, the organisations involved, and the implications for globalized healthcare organised around consumption and markets.