British battered wives? No, just nip-and-tuck tourists

Around a month ago I was sitting in a café on Manesova Street, near the centre of Prague, when in walked a small blonde woman of about 40 and sat down at the table beside me. One doesn't like to stare of course, but she appeared to have two black eyes covered with slender strips of plaster. Minutes later another woman, a brunette, walked in wearing big, dark sunglasses and with a bandage on her nose. They both spoke with broad Geordie accents and I couldn't help but wonder about them. Were they friends united in misery who had escaped violent partners in England for a quiet weekend in Prague?

But then the penny dropped. A colleague had conducted interviews with UK clients - is patients the right word for those who undergo non-necessary surgery? - who stay in luxury flats on the street before and after their procedures. Overheard snippets of conversation touching on operating times confirmed they were not battered brides. The blonde's freshly unhooded eyes and her pal's new nose may even have been an early Christmas present from their partners.

Just a few days ago the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) strongly protested against a lottery launched in the UK in which the prize was free cosmetic surgery performed in Prague. The competition was held by one of a number of British firms which facilitate cosmetic surgery in the Czech Republic.

It seems BAAPS's protest had nothing to do with a fear of losing clients to eastern European rivals. They said marketing tricks like lotteries had no place in medicine, and they would be just as strongly opposed if the prize operation were to be performed in Britain itself.

But why are the competition's organisers and other agencies bringing their clients to Prague? For two main reasons it seems. Nips and tucks in the Czech capital cost British people around a third of what they would cost them at home. And apparently Czech plastic surgeons have acquired a reputation in the UK for professionalism. (By the way, there is quite a history of cosmetic surgery in this country: Professor Frantisek Burian, who established a chair of plastic surgery at Prague's Charles University in 1938, is regarded as one of the fathers of modern plastic surgery.)

Cheap flights from regional centres all around the UK are also a factor: groups of beery lads on stag weekends aren't the only beneficiaries of the budget airline boom.