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NHS ‘designer vagina’ operations unwarranted

Requests for female genital cosmetic surgery should not be referred to the NHS, say experts.


A Central London teaching hospital has received 30 such referrals in the last 3 years, mainly from family doctors. Experts say doctors need clear guidance on how best to care for women who mistakenly believe they need surgery.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons says medics need to determine whether a problem exists or whether an alternative solution may be preferable. However, they are offering no advice on how to judge the problem, say researchers from University College London’s Women’s Health Institute.

Lead investigator Dr Sarah Creighton and colleagues believe the future demand for so-called “designer vagina” operations or labial reductions is potentially infinite and is driven by society’s wider and growing desire for cosmetic surgery in general and changing expectations about what is a desirable appearance for women.

“It’s shocking, particularly because we are seeing girls who are really young. They are asking for surgery that is irreversible and we do not know what the long-term risks of the procedure might be.”

She said latest figures for England show about 2,000 of the procedures are paid for by the NHS each year.

“That’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a massive boom industry in the private sector.”

For the study, they reviewed all 33 women referred to their clinic between 2007 and 2010 with requests for a labial reduction.

Most of the women were seeking help because they were concerned about appearance. Only a fifth wanted the surgery to reduce discomfort. One woman said she felt compelled to have the surgery after seeing a television programme on cosmetic genital surgery.

A third of the women said they had looked at advertisements about the surgery before seeing a doctor.

Twelve of the women said they would be seeking a second opinion and would consider going private to get the surgery if they still could not get it on the NHS.

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