Boob job

NO MORE BOOB JOBS ON THE NHS!” scream some of today’s headlines. “We should not be doing cosmetic work on the NHS,” says Britain’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. With the next election less than a year away, that’s possibly a popular statement to make to voters. But what if the context of such a statement isn’t as black and white as presented? 

Mention ‘NHS’ and ‘cosmetic surgery’ in one sentence, and middle England will undoubtedly be reminded of tabloid stories like this, this and this, about nobodies ‑ with agents ‑ who had cosmetic procedures courtesy of the British taxpayer and seem to have sought fame on the back of it. For a politician to pick up on the public sentiments is a clever move to garner popularity, but let’s not look at this from an entirely cynical frame of mind: the taxpayer-funded NHS is dreadfully expensive, and we need to look at what medical care we want it to cover and what not. Cosmetic surgery is a subject we therefore need to discuss and I, for one, appreciate a politician listening to people and responding to people’s concerns.

Cosmetic surgery is certainly on my mind when I walk outside in the lovely weather we’re currently enjoying, and I see people with plenty of flesh on display, showcasing their piercings, tattoos, stretched earlobes and other visible body modifications. Then I can’t help but wonder if in years to come there will be an increased demand for surgery and other treatments to ‘undo’ previous modifications, and whether the NHS (read: the British tax payer) will be able to provide this or if people are going to be told to seek private medical care at their own expense. I believe we should think and plan ahead now rather than later and do so for the long term rather than merely till the next elections. But I also believe we shouldn’t fall for tabloid-style rhetoric in which issues and possible solutions are presented in black and white, when reality is more likely to involve varying shades of grey.

This is where I’ll get personal. You see, I’ve had cosmetic surgery on the NHS.

For as long as I can remember I’d always had a small but visible spot on my right breast. On the nipple, to be exact. When that suddenly started growing into an uncomfortable lump, and a second spot ‑ about the size of a birthmark ‑ appeared, I decided to see my GP about it. She was confident that both the lump and the spot were probably benign, yet she did order to have them removed, ‘just in case,’ but also because apparently sometimes perfectly benign tumours can become malignant. Since removing the two tumours might disfigure my breast, she referred me to a cosmetic surgeon. This decision was purely for aesthetic reasons. It wasn’t until I actually met with the surgeon, that I learned that there was more at stake than just looks: nerves, glands and milk ducts might get damaged in the operation.

In the end, I was operated on by a different surgeon than the one I’d initially been referred to ‑ there was a waiting list and a slot had opened up in the other surgeon’s schedule ‑ and that cosmetic surgeon decided in the operating room to leave the small new spot be and just remove the larger tumour that caused me discomfort. This left me with minimal scarring at the time and now, five years on, you can’t even see that I was ever operated on.

The biopsy later confirmed that the tumour had indeed been benign, so does that make my operation indeed one hundred percent ‘cosmetic’? Should I have been turned down for surgery on the NHS and been told to save up and pay for it myself?

Strangely, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s remarks have come at a time that the small spot that appeared five years ago, has just started growing. It is no longer the size of a birth mark and may end up growing into a tumour like the previous one, that gets itchy and painful and causes the other discomforts that its predecessor did. So what do I do?

If I could afford to go private, I wouldn’t even be asking this question. But I happen to be fully reliant on the NHS here. Do I deserve for taxpayers ‑ of which I am one myself ‑ to pay for a cosmetic surgeon to remove this growing-but-probably-benign-again tumour from my breast and hopefully do so (again) without scarring or disfiguring my breast? Or should I wait until it develops into something more sinister than it appears to be right now?

What would you do if you were (a) me; (b) Health Secretary; or (c) a UK taxpayer? See how this isn’t a plain black-and-white issue?

© 2014 Jo Hughes | All rights reserved

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