INTERNATIONAL hospitals are stepping up efforts to lure Tasmanians seeking cut-price cosmetic surgery procedures.
Phuket International Hospital in Thailand will soon appoint a Tasmanian agent to try to lure more holidaymakers from here with offers of cheaper surgery prices and luxury accommodation.
The hospital treats about 1000 Australians each year but only about 50 are from Tasmania.
In other states, where holiday agents are working for several overseas medical institutions, the offers are luring thousands of people on international holidays for procedures ranging from breast enlargements to face lifts and gender re-assignment.
Surgery costs can be less than half the Australian prices, but local plastic surgeons warn the standards may not be as high.
Phuket International Hospital's international services manager is former Tasmanian paramedic Peter Davison, who said a Tasmanian holiday agent would be appointed soon.
The hospital already has agents in mainland capital cities who act as "an interface" between clients and the hospital.
"They're like a travel agent and they assist with hotel bookings and airfares, and things like sending photos of clients for pre-op [preparations]," said Mr Davison, who has spent the past five years developing a medical tourism program.
The hospital also holds "roadshows" around Australia, spruiking its cheaper surgeries.
An expo would be held in Tasmania soon, Mr Davison said.
Breast surgery was the most popular procedure sought by Australians, with growing numbers also seeking dental work, he said.
Patients under 30 mostly want breast enlargements, while over-30s wanted breast lifts or reductions, facelifts and tummy tucks.
"Basically, there's two major driving factors, cost and the quality of work," he said.
Breast enlargement usually costs between $10,000 and $12,000 in Australia but "we can do a package, including nine nights' accommodation, return airfares and the breast implants for $5000", he said.
Mr Davison said cosmetic surgery tourism was "booming" and the hospital was treating 20 times the number of Australians it did four years ago.
He estimated up to 10,000 Australians a year were flying to Thai hospitals for cosmetic surgery.
Travel Studio director Lee-Anne Levett said the Hobart agency occasionally arranged flights and accommodation for clients travelling overseas for surgery or dental work.
She said they did not deal with hospitals or help clients book procedures, leaving it up to travellers to do their own research on pracititioners and procedures.
Mrs Levett said it was important people travelling overseas for surgery checked whether they had adquate travel insurance to cover them for potential health complications.
Mr Davison said the hospital rejected claims by Australian doctors that it put lives at risk by encouraging patients abroad for discount cosmetic surgery.
He said people were seeking facts about overseas hospitals and voting with their feet rather than listening to the "scare campaign" about the industry.
"I think some Australian surgeons are very fearful of the fact they are losing a lot of business overseas because the quality of the work is superior to what they are offering here in Australia," Mr Davison said.
"we repair, for example, some work Australian surgeons have done because the client hasn't been satisfied."
Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons spokesman Dr Scott Ingram said he would be surprised if a Thai hospital could offer better hospital treatment than in Australia.
Australian plastic surgeons have a minimum of five years' specialist training compared to three years for some Thai plastic surgeons.
"you could rest assured that the facilities available in this country are second to none in the world," Dr Ingram said.
"we see multitudes of these people who have had their surgery overseas … coming back with those medium-term complications and there are a whole raft of longer-term complications that can occur as well," he said.