Brazilian Butt Lift disaster: Cosmetic surgeons offer UK safety solution to insurers

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The Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL), a complex procedure that removes fat from various parts of the body and injects it into the buttocks, has become the world’s fastest-growing cosmetic ‘improvement’ following celebrity promotions on Instagram and perfect body pressures on both women and men.

Procedures in the UK, costing from £2,000 to £8,000, are some 50 percent more expensive than those offered by clinics abroad. 

Practices here, however, are subject to regulation and assessed for care quality. Doctors stress the safety benefits for patients compared to operations carried out in competitor countries such as Turkey or Thailand.  

Professional body and charity the British Association of Body Sculpting (BABS) says demand for the BBL operation is so high it receives scores of requests for the treatment each week. 

But the sector has now been thrown into crisis since insurers providing the clinics’ indemnity medical cover for this procedure have pulled out, believed to be because of safety concerns, leaving UK doctors unable to perform it.

“This has created a dangerous vacuum if the situation is not resolved,” warned BABS president Dr Lucy Glancey. 

“Many women will go to great lengths to get the procedure, nothing will stop them. Some are earning a living modelling for Instagram, their only income during lockdown, for others they just want a curvy figure, the same as women wanting breast implants – something that is now widely acceptable. 

“I know of hundreds of people travelling abroad getting it done. Just more will go in future if this deadlock remains.”  

The anatomy of the buttock muscles means injecting fat there involves more risks. Complications reported in the US from that have led to fat blocking lungs and a number of deaths.

“But we advise our members to only inject fat under the skin,” says Dr Glancey. “That together with careful positioning and other precautions has led to us creating safety protocols and risk assessment tools which we advise our members to use.”

Patients arriving back here after having had the operation abroad and then going straight to a NHS casualty department have become more frequent even during lockdown, she adds.

“After botched operations fluid or blood accumulates in the buttocks, known as a seroma or haematoma. 

“Other patients have received a non-regulated filler that’s similar to industrial grade silicone. This causes discolouration and is very difficult to remove.”

BABS is now calling for a review of the guidelines and for medical groups and insurers to come together and create new safety protocols so operations can restart in the UK.

Glamour model Gemma Gilchrist chose to have the operation in the UK.

“My income depends on my looks. These days it is all about the bum, not boobs,” she says. 

“I was one of the last people to have the lift here. I did consider going overseas, the results were striking.

“But then lots of girls told me their horror stories from surgery there. It’s all under the radar as models don’t want to advertise their problems. We all try to warn one another now but some don’t listen.”

The silicone injections Dr Glancey warns about are known as “black market filler” and patients in the UK sharing their stories now describe how the punctured skin starts to discolour and die. People this happens to can’t sunbathe or tolerate any heat without enduring terrible discomfort.

Removal involves cutting the flesh and can cost up to £50,000 as well as leave horrific scars.

Patients have received a non-regulated filler that’s similar to industrial grade silicone. This causes discolouration and is very difficult to remove

BABS president Dr Lucy Glancey

Spotting the demand, rogue filler cowboys are also a phenomenon now in the UK, operating pop-up clinics in well-heeled parts of the Home Counties and North West.

According to several women: “They advertise, rent a back room, lure women in with cheap offers and promises of transformation, then disappear after a few weeks, leaving everyone else to sort out the damage.” 

“We need to protect people and the NHS,” says Dr Glancey. “If insurers work with us a solution is possible which will be good for everyone practising in the UK. Our door is open.”

BABS, a registered charity, provides details of surgeons with verified qualifications and aims to educate the public about body contouring procedures, healthy lifestyles and disperse myths that liposuction surgery is a quick fix and a weight loss solution.  

[Gemma’s name has been changed]

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