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The Treatment Rooms on BBC Radio

Why going abroad for a hair transplant is a risk.


Dr Roshan Vara joined The Emma Barnett Show to talk to a patient who has had a poor experience going abroad for a cheap hair transplant. Listen or read below to find out more about the associated risks and consequences of cheap, cost cutting hair transplant clinics.

Speaker 1:
This is BBC 5 Live. The Emma Barnett Show.

Emma Barnett:
We’ll be heading to the Commons shortly to hear the health secretary announce those changes to restrictions across the North East, but before we do that, let’s start a conversation here. And I do say, we may have to interrupt it to go to the health secretary, but let’s begin this conversation and we’ll definitely return to it if we have to do that.

Emma Barnett:
A 28-year-old man who traveled to Turkey for a cut-price hair transplant is now warning other men that they risk being left with irreparable damage. Like thousands of Brits each year, NHS worker Tom Brett went to Turkey, attracted by prices for treatments that are a fraction of those in the UK; he’s not alone. However, Tom was left with nerve damage and balding patches after paying around £1,300 for a transplant. Tom Brett started losing his hair at the age of 20 and was desperate to find a solution. We’ll also bring in Dr. Roshan Vara, a hair transplant surgeon at the Treatment Rooms in Harley Street shortly. But let me start with you, Tom. Welcome to the program.

Tom Brett:
Thank you.

Emma Barnett:
Well, just first of all, I’m sure many men listening can relate, but just tell us why it was so important to you, what was going on with your hair, and how it made you feel?

Tom Brett:
As you said, I started losing my hair at quite an early age. I started to notice it around 20, 21. It just really knocked my confidence, to be honest. When I was younger, I really … I mean, I was quite vain with my hair and stuff. So it really sort of-

Emma Barnett:
We all are.

Tom Brett:
Yeah. So I was looking online for just things to remedy it. I was looking at that Rogaine and different sorts of creams, just to stop it falling out as fast as it did. But I come across the transplant in Turkey; it seemed a lot cheaper than getting it done over here. But, I don’t know, it’s just a bit too good to be true, to be honest.

Emma Barnett:
Tell us what made you decide to go for it? And what was it like as well, when you got to Istanbul?

Tom Brett:
Everything seemed fine up until the surgery itself. The hotel was nice, everything was clean and everything was how I expected it to be honest, until after the operation. Then I started to have concerns.

Emma Barnett:
Let’s talk about that, just a moment. But just with the price side of things, is it a big difference?

Tom Brett:
Yeah. Well, from what I saw. When I was looking at to get it done in the UK, I was looking at upwards of £6,000, but over in Turkey it only cost me-

Emma Barnett:
What was it for Turkey?

Tom Brett:
It was 1,300.

Emma Barnett:
1,300.

Tom Brett:
And that was including the two-night hotel stay as well.

Tom Brett:
Oh, yeah. Well, that 1,300 included the two-night hotel stay. The only thing I had to pay on top was the flights.

Emma Barnett:
Right. Because I know that’s what we said for the transplant, but I was trying to think of the whole thing, going there, staying in the hotel, all of that.

Emma Barnett:
Wow. Okay. So it’s a big difference.

Tom Brett:
Yeah, substantially cheaper.

Emma Barnett:
What happened when you had the operation? Tell us what you felt, what you noticed. When did you think something wasn’t quite how it should be?

Tom Brett:
Well, right at the start to be honest. I went in, we had a consultation with the surgeon. He led me to believe that he was going to be doing the operation, but it turned out his assistant … he had an assistant that was doing it. And he was just walking around, going in all the surgical rooms and just checking every so often, whereas I thought he was going to actually be doing the procedure himself. But that sort of threw me off a little bit.

Emma Barnett:
And what happened? And then what happened? What was the result?

Tom Brett:
Well, afterwards, it took a lot longer than they expected, apparently. And the place closed before it finished, and it seemed like they were trying to rush me out. Once they finished, they gave me a few painkillers and just sort of rushed me out of the door, to be honest. It didn’t seem very professional; they didn’t sit me down and talk to me about aftercare or anything like that.

Emma Barnett:
And what had they done?

Tom Brett:
Well … what do you mean? Sorry.

Emma Barnett:
What was their treatment for you like? What did it look like? How did it feel?

Tom Brett:
There was a lot of blood and scabbing. It was quite painful for the first few days, to be honest. I suppose that’s probably normal.

Emma Barnett:
Yes. And then how did you know it hadn’t gone how you wanted? How long afterwards? Did you-

Tom Brett:
Probably about-

Emma Barnett:
… have a period of time where it was okay?

Tom Brett:
Yeah. Well, I thought at the beginning, it sort of looks okay. And the after, say, about three or four months, it started to … I don’t know, it just didn’t look very … it looked very artificial. You could sort of tell that … I don’t know, it didn’t look very natural to be honest. Then after it got to like the six-month mark and then it started falling out in certain areas and there was no growth whatsoever coming through, like towards the crown. I had numb patches in certain spots on the top of my head which weren’t going away, which was a bit concerning.

Tom Brett:
I was emailing them, the aftercare team, raising my concerns, and every time they would just say, “Oh, wait a couple more months and it’ll look better.” And it got to like the sort of the 10-month mark and I emailed them again and they would just say, “Oh, wait until 12 months is over.” But they told me before the operation that after the 12-month mark, they’ve got no more obligation to give me any more aftercare, so it seemed a bit strange to be honest. And then when I emailed them after 12 months, they just offered me another transplant. So it seemed a bit-

Emma Barnett:
And would you have to pay for that?

Tom Brett:
Yeah. Yeah, it was like starting all over again. They were offering me prices and consultations.

Emma Barnett:
And did it look worse than it looked originally?

Tom Brett:
Yeah. Yeah, I believe so. If I knew how it was going to turn out, I wouldn’t have gone through with it in the first place.

Emma Barnett:
How did that make you feel?

Tom Brett:
It really damaged my confidence a bit, to be honest. It felt like I’d sort of wasted my money as well. But, I don’t know … I didn’t really know what else I could do, to be honest. So I started contacting solicitors and stuff like that, but because it’s abroad, there’s nothing really they could do.

Emma Barnett:
Let’s bring in an expert here who has actually become someone in your life, Dr. Roshan Vara. As I say, a heart transplant surgeon at The Treatment Rooms in Harley Street. Good morning.

Roshan Vara:
Morning. Morning, Emma. How are you?

Emma Barnett:
I’m all right. I mean, I’m doing better than Tom at the moment because this has been a horrible experience. How popular is hair transplantation now, and have you heard of these stories before?

Roshan Vara:
Hair transplant surgery is exceedingly popular, obviously popularized by a number of celebrities and number of people in the public eye who have undergone the procedure and have showcased their results. With that, clinics across the UK, including mine, but also across the world, have really done really well on the back of that. But also, we’ve got a number of new clinics who are operating in the black market sector, who have also taken advantage of that.

Roshan Vara:
Because of that, we’re getting a lot of patients who have been operated on, like Tom’s case, not by a surgeon, not by a medical professional who’s trained within surgery, specifically hair transplant surgery, and their results and their experience like Tom’s is obviously a very sad thing to hear and can be quite disastrous. And clinics like mine and some reputable clinics also as well are seeing a huge surge of patients coming from Turkey and abroad and looking to have their hair transplant surgery fixed. So Tom’s the story that I get in my clinic on a regular basis and it’s very disheartening to them.

Emma Barnett:
Are you helping Tom free of charge?

Roshan Vara:
Yes. Tom approached me about six weeks ago, I think. Tom, is that right?

Tom Brett:
Yes.

Roshan Vara:
And he was about 15 months after his surgery and he was obviously incredibly sad and incredibly worried about what his prospects for his hair would be. And Tom’s gone to a hair transplant clinic in Turkey having suffered from hair loss and having a knock on his confidence in the first place, and he’s come out in a worse position than where he was before. So we will be operating on Tom, essentially for free of charge, reconstructing his hairline again, bringing it forward just slightly, just to conceal the poor work that Turkey has done for him, and also reconstructing his crown to a standard better than what he’s got right now.

Roshan Vara:
Alongside that, me and Tom have had a huge discussion around this ongoing process of hair loss. And that’s what many patients don’t get in Turkey, a really holistic plan for their hair loss alongside surgery. Because surgery although is one specific treatment for hair loss, there’s other things that gents who are Tom’s age should be considering and to prevent further hair loss in the future.

Emma Barnett:
Like what?

Roshan Vara:
Well, Tom’s quite young, so he was in his twenties when he first considered hair transplant surgery. And actually, that’s quite a young age to undergo a knife for any specific condition. And really, at his age, he should’ve been considering really wide things. He mentioned Regaine and things like Finasteride, which are two medications that are licensed, that are proven to work for hair loss. And actually, what Tom didn’t mention is actually he told the clinic in Turkey that he was considering those medications for hair loss, but they dissuaded him from having, or considering, this medication even further. Which is really bad medical advice, and certainly it’s something that he didn’t benefit from whatsoever.

Roshan Vara:
And these are medications that work for hair loss, thicken the hair out, and they should be considered because hair loss is a progressive condition. Tom’s hair loss is only going to get worse. And although hair transplant surgery is a fix to reconstruct hair lines or to fill in areas of low density in the crown, it’s a permanent result. And if you’re continuing to lose hair, you will be left just with permanent hair that we’ve transplanted. So it’s important to keep the hair around the transplanted hair as well, using those medications.

Emma Barnett:
Do you think you can repair it fully? Are you able to?

Roshan Vara:
It’s a really good question. And actually, we’ve been really upfront and honest with Tom, and we’re looking for an improvement in his hair, in his temples and his hair line and his crown. We’re never going to be able to give him his hair as it was 10, 15 years ago; that’s almost impossible. But I think we can actually do a really good job. It’s surgery that we’ve done before, and it’s had really good results in similar patients like Tom, in the similar situation.

Roshan Vara:
And in my clinic, myself as a surgeon and also my fellow colleague associates in the clinic, we’ve operated for a number of years. We have experience with patients who have gone to Turkey, come back with worse off results and where Tom is right now. So I’m quite confident it’s something that we can achieve a result that’s actually quite respectable and quite natural.

Emma Barnett:
How safe are well-done operations? Because we’ve heard about a situation that I think we could describe as botched.

Roshan Vara:
Well, hair transplant surgery is a safe procedure. There are obviously risks associated with any procedure, any medications, but hair transplant surgery done and works with experienced hands, with a good quality level of care is a safe procedure. And actually, clinics like mine and myself, we’re registered with the CQC, and that’s a body that is within the UK that inspects and regulates clinics that are performing hair transplant surgery, and it regulates it from a quality point of view, but also from a safety point of view as well. And there’s a really good … So you can actually go to the CQC website and you can search clinics that perform hair transplant surgery. Then you can see their latest inspection report as well. For example, my clinic was inspected, and it’s quite a rigorous inspection, last year by CQC and there’s ratings and there’s qualifications that we have in that. And all clinics should operate within that space, and all surgeons who perform hair transplant surgery should be GMC registered, and if they-

Emma Barnett:
I was just going to say, those are the things you should be looking for when you are doing your research.

Roshan Vara:
Absolutely. Absolutely. And actually, there’s a really great platform online. It’s a nonprofit organization called The British Association of Hair Restoration Surgeons. And as you know, shorthand is BAHRS, and that’s a great organization that upholds stringent professional and ethical codes of conduct by which surgeons should abide by when it comes to hair transplant surgery. It’s an organization that I’m a member of and that’s just a really good portal for patients who are looking to explore hair transplant surgery to really start of at. And there’s a few members there that obviously operate within that code of conduct and have a CQC registered clinic as well.

Emma Barnett:
Tom, how are you feeling about going under the knife again?

Tom Brett:
Yeah, I’m quite eager to get it done, to be honest.

Emma Barnett:
And change things.

Tom Brett:
Yeah. Yeah. I just want it to be sorted, to be honest, as soon as possible.

Emma Barnett:
But I suppose you would say to people to be very careful in light of your experience?

Tom Brett:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely do a lot of research before picking where you’re going to get your surgery done. You find all these cut-price hair transplants and they look too good to be true, and it turns out they are. You’re better off paying the extra and getting it done properly in the UK.

Emma Barnett:
What is the average price, Dr. Vara?

Roshan Vara:
For surgery, it does vary depending on the size of the surgery. So in London, I would say the average price varies between £4,000 to £6,000. It can be more for large areas; it can be less. It really does depend on the surgeon and depends on the clinic as well.

Emma Barnett:
How’s your hair, Roshan? Have you got a good head of hair?

Roshan Vara:
Yeah, we’re not actually on video call, so I can’t actually show you my massive barnet of hair. For the older listeners, I look like I’ve got Johnny Bravo’s hair. I’m joking. I’ve got fairly natural hair, but I take hair loss medications as well. So I prevent further hair loss knowing that my family history precludes me to a level of hair loss. My father is completely bald, so I knew that I was properly going his way when it comes to hair loss. So I’m doing some pretty-

Emma Barnett:
You’ve not been offering the family members some transplant if they’d like it?

Roshan Vara:
You know what? There’s a massive conflict of interest if I do do that, so I suggest-

Emma Barnett:
Yeah, true.

Roshan Vara:
… esteemed colleagues right the way across the UK who I’m more than happy to recommend them to.

Emma Barnett:
Okay, well, it’s very interesting to hear. It’s great, Tom, that you’re in this position, I suppose, of getting a repair job from Dr. Vara.

Tom Brett:
Yeah.

Emma Barnett:
And Tom, we know that you wanted to … We wanted to share your story and I know you wanted to share your story because you don’t want other people to go through this. So all the best. Let us know it goes.

Tom Brett:
Thank you for having me on.

Emma Barnett:
Keep in touch with us. And good luck, Dr. Vara, with your patients and people coming to you and trying to make some of those changes. It is a very emotional thing, people’s hair and how they feel about it. We’re going up to the House of Commons now, or over to it, to hear Matt Hancock, the health secretary.

Hopefully you enjoyed hearing from Dr. Vara and this has given you some insight into FUE hair transplants If you are looking for a hair transplant clinic in London call us now on 020 8706 0076 to find out more.

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