06 May 2009

Cosmetic surgery is a subject that still incites controversy in the UK and there is a huge gulf between the appetites for it here and the US, where people are five times as likely to undergo treatment. However, that is where the market opportunity is, according to Mel Braham, chairman of The Harley Medical Group, which he set up 26 years ago in Londons Harley Street after a string of other ventures in sectors including tourism, agriculture and hair transplant clinics.The Harley Medical Group offers cosmetic surgery, including breast augmentation and liposuction, as well as non-surgical treatments such as laser hair removal and Botox, and has built its business to turnover 35m and 26 clinics in the UK and Ireland, making it the UK market leader. Mr Braham says demand was strong right from the start and he envisages continuing to expand the company until it reaches a saturation point of about 90 UK and Ireland clinics. We had 4,000 enquiries in the first month alone and we have grown the business gradually over the years, helped by our profile and by the fact that we are regarded as an ethical organisation, he says. Some other organisations use aggressive salespeople to advise on procedures. We dont do that. Patients only see experienced cosmetic surgeons and specially trained cosmetic surgery nurses. Such trained practitioners, he says, explain to potential customers what is possible and what the risks are, while staff also carry out financial checks to make sure patients can afford treatment. The Harley Medical Group has a training centre alongside its call centre in Birmingham, where staff are taught best practice in the industry, he adds. People are often afraid the first time, he says, but by the time a patient has gone through all the assessments they are very, very educated about it. Its terribly important in cosmetic surgery that a patient knows what is possible and what a surgeon can and cannot do and its also terribly important that a surgeon knows and understands what a patient wants. Cosmetic surgery is a big decision in a patients life and it is relatively expensive so it is extremely important to get everything right. All The Harley Medical Groups clinics are registered with the Healthcare Commission, the independent watchdog for health care in England, while every employee has to have police clearance. The Harley Medical Group now employs 200 people. Mr Braham says the most popular cosmetic surgery procedure is breast augmentation, reduction or uplift, followed by liposuction and rhinoplasty (reconstruction of the nose). The most popular non-surgical procedures are laser hair removal, Botox and skin peels. The majority of people coming to us just want to look normal, he says. Its not really vanity. They are very uncomfortable with some specific aspect of their appearance. If you can fix that they are usually very, very happy. We have also spent five years researching a new form of breast augmentation that will not need implants. It will be on the market in the UK in the next 12 months.