Government eyes cosmetic surgery to help NHS deficit
Research claims a quarter of cosmetic patients lie to get free treatment
As the National Health Service faces a potential funding shortfall, the Secretary of State for Health has declared his opposition to using taxpayers’ money for cosmetic surgery. His comments follow research earlier this year showing that a quarter of patients surveyed by a team of medical negligence solicitors lied about their mental health to secure NHS funding.
Increased demand on health services—partly attributed to population growth, an ageing population and pension costs—could cause the NHS a £2bn funding shortfall in the next financial year. While £100bn has been allocated to the NHS budget from April 2015, health sector regulator Monitor has warned that even after realistic efficiency savings, there will be a £1.6bn deficit in secondary healthcare.
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, says public money should not be used to pay for vanity-driven cosmetic surgery. “We should not be doing cosmetic work on the NHS. The decisions are taken on the basis of clinical need, but I have made it very clear that I am against purely cosmetic work being done,” Mr Hunt says.
But where do we draw the line between who is eligible for surgery and who isn’t? Criteria for cosmetic treatments on the NHS include: breast implants for severe underdevelopment or lopsidedness; breast reduction to treat back pain or shoulder pain; rhinoplasty for breathing problems; tummy tucks to remove excess fat or skin after essential abdominal surgery; and eyelid reduction to treat affected vision. However, those patients granted state-funded treatment may face long waiting times due to limited resources.
As NHS-funded cosmetic surgery requires a major physical or psychological need for treatment, many people don’t qualify. The alternative—cosmetic surgery carried out privately—is a comparatively expensive option for those seeking treatment for cosmetic reasons so the system can be open to abuse.
“There will be times when there is a mental health need, which the local doctor has said is very serious. But I do completely understand people’s reservations about some of the things that happen,” says Mr Hunt.
Research carried out by Medical Accident Group surveyed 1,394 adult patients who had received cosmetic surgery in the past five years. A quarter of those surveyed were ineligible for NHS treatment and had been dishonest to their GP about their mental state; 41% claimed that their appearance made them feel self-conscious and 11% said their looks were causing them to feel depressed.
Around 9% pretended to be in pain to get treatment and 3% claimed their health was being affected. Mr Hunt’s recommendations would not apply to reconstructive surgery, but would ensure only the most severe cases should justify treatment on psychological grounds.
Cosmetic surgery will be one of many areas under public scrutiny over the coming months, as the health service races to avert a funding crisis. But the Department of Health is confident the funding gap will be addressed, assuring: “We’ve taken tough decisions to protect the NHS budget, which is allowing us to strengthen family doctoring, reform out of hospital care, and improve GP access for 7.5 million people across the country.
“The NHS is on track to make £20bn savings this parliament to reinvest into frontline care and we are confident that it will continue to make the savings necessary to meet rising demand,” they say.