Police raid illegal plastic surgery clinic

Facelifts were carried out on household beds, surgical instruments lay next to kitchen implements - and latex gloves were reused.

Handout pictures of a plastic surgery clinic that was operating out of a flat in Dubai.

Courtesy of Dubai Municipality

DUBAI // Police officers and municipal inspectors barged into a flat in Deira, arrested several people and shut down an unlicensed clinic where untrained "surgeons" carried out delicate cosmetic surgery procedures as patients laid on makeshift beds and surgical equipment mingled with kitchen utensils.

The raid several days ago followed an undercover investigation that found the illegal clinic was offering services such as lip and cheek enlargement, facelifts, laser hair removal, Botox injections and laser plastic surgery at prices far below what legitimate doctors charge. The raid provided a glimpse into the shadowy world of unlicensed clinics that offer discount procedures and exist on the very fringes of the medical community. Officials warned that such facilities, while rare, pose a "huge health risk".

The municipality confirmed that a handful of people were arrested, although it declined to disclose the name and exact location of the clinic. It said a case was registered with the police against the owner of a nearby beauty salon that is believed to have operated as a front for the clinic. The beauty salon owner was also immediately fined Dh20,000 (US$5,400). Inspectors who raided the flat discovered that makeshift beds were being used as surgery tables and staff with no medical qualifications were conducting procedures on patients. A "waiting list" found at the flat showed that dozens more patients were due to go under the knife in the coming weeks.

The inspectors found that kitchen equipment in the flat was kept alongside implements intended to be used in surgery. "There were clear violations in the practices. Besides, they were unlicensed and operating in a residential flat. We advise people never to go to such clinics," said Redha Salman, the municipality's director of public health and safety. "There was clear evidence of poor practices. The staff was reusing surgical gloves. We found that the staff there was not medically qualified."

The raid was conducted after inspectors were tipped off that the salon was offering its customers "additional services" including plastic surgery. An undercover inspector posed as a customer interested in cosmetic surgery. Salon staff took her to a nearby building and told her that she should go to the apartment. At the flat, she was offered a range of cosmetic services. Under the pretext of having to visit an ATM to withdraw money, she left and immediately called the municipal inspectors.

After teaming up with police officers, they raided the flat and discovered laser machines, needles, oxygen masks and other equipment used in plastic surgery procedures. "The police took fingerprints and arrested some of the staff. The Dubai Economic Department and the Health Authority was also informed," said Mr Salman. The Dubai Health Authority also plans to investigate the matter. The hair salon was allowed to remain open after the raid.

Mr Salman said inspections continued to identify and shut down such businesses when they cropped up. "I do not think this is a wide phenomenon in Dubai, but there are isolated units that are operating underground," he said. Hafid Ghuloom, the head of the municipality's health control section, urged anyone considering plastic surgery to use only licensed clinics. "Licensed clinics are inspected regularly and are safe. On the other hand, such illegal clinics are a huge health risk. Communicable diseases can be transmitted through surgeries in such clinics as the tools are often unsterilised," he said.

Plastic surgeons warned that procedures carried out at underground clinics could lead to skin infections and other disorders. Dr Dawood Sulaiman, a plastic surgeon at the International Aesthetic Medical Centre in Dubai, said that such unlicensed centres could sometimes offer procedures at 10 per cent of the full cost charged by recognised facilities. "They are offering very cheap services. However, they are equally dangerous," Dr Sulaiman said.

"I am presently dealing with one patient who went to such a clinic and is suffering from Botox infection," he said. Last month, Health Authority-Abu Dhabi said it would publish guidelines for beauty clinics that use lasers and other cosmetic devices. This week health inspectors in Abu Dhabi ordered a surprise inspection campaign to remove cosmetic lasers and peelers from beauty parlours and barber shops not licensed to operate them.