Welcome to 'Hard Sell' Street


Last updated at 08:48 17 November 2005

Just off London's busiest shopping street on a Tuesday morning in late October and the talk is of special offers, discounts and interest-free credit.

"There's £1,000 off if you go for the two," says one saleswoman, an attractive, middle-aged American with the gift of the gab. Another, equally assured, ventures: "I can give you a £250 discount if you pay up front."

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It is the language of the car showroom - complete with perfect smiles and locked-on eye contact - but what they are selling will do more than leave a dent in the purchaser's pocket.

For the action centres on Harley Street, a place where the price list is all about breast enhancements, rhinoplasty and liposuction.

Indeed, the only vehicles on view are the BMWs and Mercedes-Benz that line this Georgian boulevard and which are owned the men and women who make their living buying and selling beauty.

And, make no mistake, business has been booming in the cosmetic industry - with 75,000 people undergoing beauty enhancing treatments last year alone.

It's an upward trend they are determined to see continue, so in recent months the hard sell of the High Street has come to the world of nip and tuck as all the tricks of the trade are used to lure in prospective patients.

But is there really anything wrong with giving customers a good deal? After all, no matter what they are selling, isn't business always business?

No, not if some of the country's most eminent plastic surgeons are to be believed. Fed up with the proliferation of enticements, loans and incentives - and having seen first hand the misery that botched operations can cause - they have broken ranks to attack the trivialisation of what can be highly dangerous surgical procedures.

They argue that in an industry where the potential exists for individuals to suffer as a result of undergoing unnecessary surgery, economic manipulation should play no part.

"Someone with insecurities about their appearance is vulnerable to enticements towards cosmetic surgery, hoping it will revolutionise their lives, but that is not always the case," explains Adam Searle, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS).

"The true tragedy is that within this epidemic of rather tasteless activity there are going to be patients who experience significant complications and lifelong damage from pursuing ill-planned and ill-thought-out operations."

Buy in bulk and there are bargains to be had

He continues: "Those in the industry say they are servicing a need, but I would say they want more people to have surgery so their profits increase."

HALF an hour in the presence of 'patient support officer' Diane and you'd be forgiven for thinking you've stepped into a tourist information centre rather than a cosmetic surgery clinic.

Not only can this loquacious American make a hospital sound idyllic ("It's like a country home, there are cobbled streets and you can go to the market"), but she will also recommend somewhere to stay after the operation ("There's a Travel Inn really near, £47 a night, beautiful Brewers Fayre restaurant and I went with my boyfriend and we stayed there to recover - he had a couple of beers...")

Together with a female reporter posing as my girlfriend, I visited Diane, who works for a firm called Linia, in the company's Harley Street consulting rooms. We claimed we were making initial inquiries about liposuction and were interested to find out how much the procedure would cost.

What quickly became apparent was that buying lipo is like buying anything, buy in bulk and there are bargains to be had. Indeed, it also transpired that the more procedures one is prepared to undergo, the more 'cost effective' it is.

Diane began by explaining that as far as liposuction is concerned, the cost depends on how many areas of one's body - such as thighs, buttocks or arms - one has done.

While it costs £2,675 for one area, having two at the same time would be £3,275. "That is a discount," Diane pointed out. "One area is £2,675 and the next is costing you only £600."

'You would be silly to do that, very silly, because of your discount'

To check I understand exactly what she is saying, I ask what would happen if a patient were to have liposuction on one area and then come back six months later for the second.

"You would be silly to do that, very silly, because of your discount," she says. "You would come back and pay another £2,675. It all has to do with your anaesthetist being there, the operating theatre being booked and the number of procedures you have at the same time and it sounds like a quantity discount, but it gives better value for money."

NEXT, I venture that my 'girlfriend' is considering having her breasts enlarged to see if any more discounts might apply. "Breast augmentations are now very, very easy," she tells us. "All you feel is you've done an hour's work-out."

Then, armed with a calculator, she outlines her company's 'multiple discount' policy - add the cost of each procedure together and then subtract £1,000.

"A breast augmentation on its own would be £4,975, so what you need to do is add the two together and take £1,000 off as a discount," she says. "So let's say you wanted two areas of liposuction - £3,275 - and a breast augmentation, that would be £7,250 instead of £8,250."

Diane stresses that it would be up to the cosmetic surgeon to assess my 'girlfriend's' suitability for the procedures and she is keen for her to make an appointment as soon as possible.

Read the full story only in today's Daily Mail

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