The wrinkles and sagging muscles had been bothering her for a while. Finally, last year, the 48-year-old, who works at an acupuncture clinic in Mumbai, approached the government-run JJ Hospital for a facelift. The procedure cost her Rs 950; a similar procedure at a private hospital would have set her back by Rs 1.5 lakh.
“Who doesn’t want to look good? If I can get rid of my wrinkles for Rs 950, why not?” she says.
While trauma-related constructive surgeries for burns and accidents continue to be mainstay of plastic surgery departments at government hospitals in Mumbai, over the last few years, many such as the state-run J J Hospital and those run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) such as KEM, Sion and Nair Hospital, have reported a rise in numbers of those approaching them for affordable cosmetic surgeries, from the more common rhinoplasty (nose jobs) and liposuction (fat removal) to hair transplants, breast implants and penis enlargement.
Usually seen as the preserve of the well-heeled, the surgical procedures at these government hospitals are done at a fraction of what’s offered in private hospitals. For instance, while a facelift ranges from Rs 950 at JJ Hospital to Rs 2,500 at one of the BMC tertiary-care hospitals, a similar procedure at a private hospital would start at around Rs 1 lakh.
“Along with the post-surgery medication and cost of the bed, I would have had to pay at least Rs 2.5 lakh at any of the private hospitals. A bed at JJ Hospital cost me Rs 30 a day compared to Rs 1,500 at a private hospital. I wouldn’t have been able to afford that, so I went to JJ,” says the 48-year-old acupuncturist, who has now taken an appointment with her doctor for dimples.
According to data accessed by The Indian Express, between 2016 and 2021, JJ Hospital has conducted procedures for liposuction (127), rhinoplasty (139), breast reduction (13), cosmetic breast implant (8), hair transplants (23) and penis enlargement (12), among several other procedures (see box).
In 2019, JJ Hospital conducted 41 liposuction procedures. The same year, BMC-run KEM, Sion and Nair Hospitals together did 98 such procedures – a slow, yet steady rise from 2016, when the three hospitals did 43 liposuctions.
Doctors say the pandemic — when several hospitals such as Nair were converted into dedicated Covid facilities – saw elective surgeries being put on hold, but since then, the demand for these procedures have picked up.
Dr Kapoor, who conducted the facial lift procedure on the 48-year-old Bandra acupuncturist, says that in the last six months, JJ Hospital has conducted over 47 cosmetic procedures. “Other than liposuction and rhinoplasty, we also get male patients who come in with requests for cuff and chest implants because they want to show off their muscular physique,” said Dr Kapoor.
“The reason people come to our hospital is because our procedures are a hundred times cheaper than in private hospitals. Though our patients have to bear the cost of post-surgery care, they get to save lakhs on the surgical procedures,” he said.
Doctors also say these procedures, which are considered “cosmetic”, are not covered under medical insurance, and hence, people turn to reputed plastic surgeons at government hospitals.
In 2016, a 36-year-old woman from Mahalaxmi underwent a breast reduction at the BMC-run KEM hospital for Rs 2,000. “I have always had an attractive figure but after my delivery, my breasts sagged and I didn’t feel confident anymore. So, when I got to know that I can undergo the surgery at an affordable rate, I approached KEM hospital. Private hospitals would have charged around Rs 1-2.5 lakh for the procedure,” she said.
Dr Vinita Puri, head of the plastic surgery department at KEM who conducted the surgery on the 36-year-old, said the success rates of civic hospitals have made patients more confident about knocking on their doors. For instance, in 2016, the hospital conducted 22 liposuctions, which went up to 58 in 2019.
A doctor at Nair Hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Though I get people from all strata of society, the majority is from the lower middle classes, who usually come to me with minor cosmetic procedures that don’t involve surgeries – like a brow lift. We also get patients who come to us saying they want to undergo the surgery under a specific doctor because of their reputation.”
The doctors, however, said that while they have been registering a steady increase in elective cosmetic surgeries, most of the cases they attend to are trauma-related constructive procedures. Between 2019 and 2021, KEM conducted 1,933 reconstructive surgeries, JJ Hospital 1,555 and Nair Hospital 1,897.