‘I flew to Turkey for gastric sleeve surgery and the experience was horrific’

With glossy websites promising anyone can travel to the sunshine, stay in luxury accommodation and have surgery to “transform” their bodies, all for as little as a fifth of the cost of a single private operation in the UK, it’s easy to see why an estimated 150,000 Britons go under the knife in Turkey every year.

But doctors and health officials are increasingly alarmed by the potential dangers, with at least 25 British citizens dying following surgery in Turkey in the past four years, including two young women in the last month alone.

Morgan Ribeiro, 20, from south London, went into septic shock following weight loss surgery in Istanbul, while Demi Agoglia, 26, from Manchester, died from a pulmonary embolism after undergoing Brazilian butt-lift surgery.

Experts warn some companies are using misleading claims and high-pressure sales tactics to persuade customers to sign up for major surgery in substandard clinics. Concerns are so great that Department of Health representatives travelled to Turkey last November to discuss the issue with health officials there and are continuing to monitor the situation. It follows reports that the cost to the NHS of emergency treatment for patients who had surgery overseas reached £1.7 million in 2022.

According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) in a six-month window last year, three times more corrective surgeries were carried out in patients who had been to Turkey for operations than all other countries combined.

“We see people who are acutely sick coming off the plane from Istanbul at Heathrow and making their way straight to our A&E,” says Ahmed Ahmed (CORR), a consultant bariatric surgeon at a major London NHS hospital. In his 20-year career, Mr Ahmed, a Royal College of Surgeons of England council member, has never seen so many patients needing corrective surgery after botched weight loss procedures abroad. He now operates on around one patient a fortnight. “It has really exploded in the last five years,” he adds. “It’s frightening.”

Although countries including Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic also offer medical tourism, the industry is booming in Turkey, largely because costs are usually lower than in EU countries and customers are drawn to the idea of having a holiday at the same time.

Private clinic comparison site WhatClinic lists more than 900 plastic surgery providers in the country, around 50 per cent more than in the UK (although just 122 are officially recognised by the Turkish government-backed HealthTurkiye website).

Worldwide, 86 per cent of cosmetic surgery is carried out on women, with 18-34 the most popular age to have a nose job or breast augmentation, and 35-50 the most popular age for liposuction, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).

Experts fear social media is driving a growing trend for women in their 20s and 30s to have cosmetic and weight loss surgery in Turkey. Patients can be emotionally and financially vulnerable, so are easy prey for unscrupulous clinics.

Marc Pacifico, a leading UK-based plastic surgeon and president of BAAPS, stresses that while Turkey is home to some of the world’s most renowned plastic surgeons, they are unlikely to be those most-promoted on social media or Google search results.

“Many commercially-operated cosmetic tourism companies don’t employ properly qualified surgeons,” he explains. Such companies “bamboozle” prospective clients with psychological marketing techniques, he adds. “There can be a lot of pressure to sign up quickly to get a cheaper price or to agree to a second operation at a cut price before you’ve had the first.”

An emphasis on sales also means patients are less likely to be fully informed about the risks and possible complications.

Speaking to The Telegraph just before going into theatre to perform corrective surgery on a patient who had been to Turkey, Professor Ash Mosahebi says patients are frequently “sold an idea” which does not match reality.

The consultant plastic surgeon, who works for the NHS in London and the private Organic Aesthetics London clinic, adds: “Quite often the surgeons don’t even see the patients in advance, they are sold the case by a third party.

“The quality of surgeon can be variable and (patients) are going there almost blind… I see many, many patients with problems which could have been avoided or sorted out earlier.”

There have been multiple reports of Turkish surgeons carrying out preoperative consultations only over the WhatsApp messaging app, performing risky procedures with substandard equipment and failing to give adequate aftercare.

Patients tell of being left in hotel rooms after surgery without suitable pain relief. In one case anonymously reported by BAAPS, a patient had their wound restitched in a hotel without anaesthetic.

Flights home can be within a few days of surgery, which increases the risk of dangerous blood clots. The NHS recommends waiting at least five to ten days before flying, depending on the type of surgery.

While complications can happen anywhere, in the UK surgeons have a duty to provide thorough pre-operative assessment and post-operative care. By contrast, some patients may not meet their overseas surgeon before the day of the operation and may not see them again afterwards.

Pinky Jolley, 46, from Merseyside, needed treatment at two NHS hospitals in Liverpool after a botched £2,100 sleeve gastrectomy (also known as a gastric sleeve) in Turkey last November.

Jolley's botched sleeve gastrectomy was 'so cheap, it should have been a warning sign'Jolley's botched sleeve gastrectomy was 'so cheap, it should have been a warning sign'

Jolley’s botched sleeve gastrectomy was ‘so cheap, it should have been a warning sign’

The procedure, which cost around £10-12,000 privately in the UK, promises dramatic weight loss results because it involves removing most of the stomach, making patients eat less and feel fuller.

But mistakes in Jolley’s surgery caused multiple infections, sepsis and damage to her oesophagus and stomach, leaving her only able to have food and fluids through a tube directly into her bowel.

“It was so cheap, it should have been a warning sign but to be honest I just thought the UK surgery prices were inflated,” she says.

Jolley received treatment in Liverpool after her surgery in Turkey caused multiple infections, sepsis and damage to her oesophagus and stomachJolley received treatment in Liverpool after her surgery in Turkey caused multiple infections, sepsis and damage to her oesophagus and stomach

Jolley received treatment in Liverpool after her surgery in Turkey caused multiple infections, sepsis and damage to her oesophagus and stomach

Although she researched for nine months before committing to surgery, she says she only had access to online reviews – which she now thinks were misleading – and wasn’t allowed to meet her surgeon until “hours” before the procedure.

Although she cannot name her surgeon for legal reasons, she has since met another woman whose weight loss surgery was botched by the same man a year earlier.

Now 14 months on, Jolley is now largely bedbound, with constant pain and muscle wastage from malnourishment. Her husband Paul, 44, has given up work to become her full-time carer.

Her weight has dropped to just 10 stone (at her heaviest before surgery she was 21st) but her health is “so much worse than before”.

“If I could sum up the experience in one word it would be ‘horrific’,” she adds. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through. Medical tourism won’t stop but there needs to be much more regulation.”

Jolley with her husband Paul who is now her full-time carerJolley with her husband Paul who is now her full-time carer

Jolley with her husband Paul who is now her full-time carer – Asadour Guzelian

Ahmed says the surgical equipment alone for a sleeve gastrectomy costs clinics about £2,000 per operation.

“So how is it possible for hospitals elsewhere to provide the whole package of care including the surgery, the anaesthesia, the hospital costs, plus flight and hotel costs for £2,500?” he says. “It is obvious there are some shortcuts being taken.”

He fears surgeons overseas are reusing tools designed to be single-use, raising the risk they will be less effective or trigger infection.

And some clinics may be cost-cutting by carrying out a different procedure than agreed.

“I’ve had patients come in, having had surgery abroad, thinking that they had one operation, but when we’ve done the X-rays and imaging we’ve actually discovered they had a different operation. That is a very, very worrying phenomenon,” adds Ahmed.

Risky practices like these are possible because Turkey is not bound by the same regulations as the EU or UK.

Here, surgeons undergo 10 to 15 years of training to become a specialist, whereas training can be as little as three years in countries like Turkey. Doctors, hospitals and clinics in the UK are also strictly regulated. “The UK has some of the highest training and safety standards in the world,” Pacifico says. “But things can be very different in other countries.”

It means surgeons in Turkey can perform risky procedures which are rarely carried out here, like the Brazilian butt lift (BBL). This involves fat from elsewhere in the body being injected into the buttocks and can cause life-threatening clots if injected fat ends up in the bloodstream.


Number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed in 2022 by country

Brazil – 2.05 million

USA – 1.65 million

Mexico – 0.94 million

Turkey – 0.47 million

UK – 0.13 million

Most popular countries for cosmetic surgery tourism (by proportion of patients who come from overseas)

Columbia – 30 per cent

Turkey – 23.5 per cent

Mexico – 20 per cent

Thailand – 20 per cent

Average cost for breast augmentation (“boob job”)

UK – from £3,500 to £8,000

USA – from £3,400

Poland – around £3,000

Turkey – from £2,800


Another dangerous practice is carrying out multiple procedures in one operation. These include so-called “mommy makeovers”, which can include breast surgery, liposuction, abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) and BBL.

High-risk patients who would not be considered suitable for cosmetic surgery under UK guidelines, including those who smoke, are obese or have diabetes, may also find they are waved through for surgery in Turkey.

With so many potential risks, why does surgery in Turkey remain so popular? Aside from costs, a major factor is lengthy NHS waiting lists.

Patients who qualify for NHS weight loss surgery (such as those with a BMI over 40 or over 35 with a health condition) are currently waiting two to three years in the UK. Around 5,000 to 6,000 people every year receive the surgery on the NHS but almost as many choose to pay for it abroad instead. Ahmed sympathises with those who do so – and feels the only solution is better investment in NHS services to increase the number of people able to access surgery in the UK.

Dr Pundrique Sharma, consultant plastic surgeon at Harley Medical Group, believes pressure from social media is also to blame. “(It) has created unreasonable expectations for both men and women about what they can and should look like,” he says.

Another key issue is that it is difficult for UK customers researching their treatment to get unbiased information. Clinics may pay or give free surgery to social media influencers in exchange for promotion, publish their own “advice” blogs and pay to appear high in Google search results.

Even patient reviews can be unreliable. Some patients have reported feeling pressured to leave glowing reviews before they were granted a “fit to fly” certificate to go home, including Jolley. She says her clinic was “very pushy” about her leaving a positive Trustpilot review and demanded she send a screenshot. Luckily she was later able to edit it to be more accurate.

There have also been reports of patients signing contracts with clauses stating they must not speak negatively about their clinic.

A quick glance at the hashtags #sleeveturkey (gastric sleeve) and #bblturkey (Brazilian butt lift) on Instagram and TikTok reveals hundreds of Turkish clinic accounts, many claiming to be the “best”. Aimed predominantly at British, German and French customers, many social media posts mention available discounts or have unattributed five-star reviews written in poor English.

Morgan Ribeiro, 20, died after going into septic shock following weight-loss surgery in IstanbulMorgan Ribeiro, 20, died after going into septic shock following weight-loss surgery in Istanbul

Morgan Ribeiro, 20, died after going into septic shock following weight-loss surgery in Istanbul

Last week, the UK’s advertising watchdog banned two paid-for Google ads from Turkish firms for making “misleading” and “irresponsible” claims about the safety, quality and ease of having nose job and tummy tuck surgeries abroad.

Official guidance from the NHS and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office warns patients travelling abroad should “be cautious” of any website selling cosmetic surgery as part of a holiday package.

The NHS tells patients it is “unrealistic” to expect to have a holiday after surgery, while the FCDO warns: “The standard of medical facilities, qualifications and treatments abroad can vary widely and may differ from UK standards. There have been complications and deaths abroad from medical procedures.”

A government spokesperson told The Telegraph: “We urge anyone considering a medical procedure abroad to review our travel advice and the relevant guidance from the NHS and other professional bodies.”

Ahmed urges patients to wait and have surgery in the UK if at all possible. Pacifico says those choosing to go abroad should, as a minimum, know the name of the surgeon and have at least one video consultation before committing to travelling.

Joint guidelines issued by BAAPS and its Turkish equivalent TSPRAS (the Turkish Society of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons) say patients should check if their surgeon is listed as a member of TSPRAS (via plastikcerrahi.org).

Ideally, your surgeon will also be a member of EBOPRAS (the European Board of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery), have been practising for at least five years and been working at their current clinic for at least three years. You should ask to see their Turkish board certification certificate and confirmation of their specialism.

You must be asked to complete an informed consent form before you travel and should be given an aftercare plan and contact details.

Red flags, according to Pacifico, include not being able to see your surgeon in advance, any refusal to fully answer your questions and pressure to rush into a decision, such as being offered a cheaper price if you book quickly.

Cosmetic surgery can be life-changing and choosing whether or not, and where, to have it is a serious decision,” he adds. “You should never feel pressure to rush that decision to save money – it could end up costing you your life.”

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With glossy websites promising anyone can travel to the sunshine, stay in luxury accommodation and have surgery to “transform” their bodies, all for as little as a fifth of the cost of a single private operation in the UK, it’s easy to see why an estimated 150,000 Britons go under the knife in Turkey every…

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