Interest in NHS-funded breast implants has surged in recent years following a number of controversial, high-profile news stories related to women receiving free boob jobs on the NHS. These stories often result in public outrage, with people criticising the NHS as well as the patients for using taxpayers’ money on purely cosmetic procedures. However, for some women who are unable to afford the private fees, the idea of receiving the treatment for free via the NHS can seem like the ideal solution.

But how easy is it to get breast implants on the NHS? Is anybody eligible for the procedure? And how does the NHS choose who can be treated and who can’t? These are all questions that people often ask, and the answers to the questions are often not as clear as you would think.

Criteria for Breast Implants on the NHS

Broadly speaking, breast augmentation surgery is only available on the NHS for two reasons: reconstructive and psychological. Surgery for reconstructive purposes is available to those who have lost part of their breast through cancer or an accident. Due to the psychological trauma associated with either of these situations, surgery in these instances is usually readily available for patients. It is not regarded as a cosmetic procedure.

Technically, the NHS will not fund any breast augmentation that is purely for cosmetic reasons (i.e. simply to increase size and improve overall appearance of the breast). However, if a patient’s mental health is deemed to be at risk if the procedure is not carried out, then the NHS can fund the surgery for psychological reasons.

However, it is much more difficult to attain an NHS boob job for psychological reasons than it is reconstructive. Although having small breasts can lead to low confidence, low self-esteem, and in some cases depression, this is often not enough to warrant a referral from a GP. According to NHS guidelines on breast procedures, “it should not be carried out for “small” but normal breasts or for breast tissue involution (including post partum changes)” (source). This would mean that patients whose breasts have developed but are simply small, or which have changed following having children, will not be eligible for NHS-funded enlargements.

The guidelines go on to state that the only exceptions for the procedure are women “with a complete absence of breast tissue unilaterally or bilaterally; OR with of a significant degree of asymmetry of breast shape of two or more cup sizes caused by a pathological and not a physiological problem”. In these instances, the psychological problems relating to the undeveloped breasts is seen as significant enough to warrant the surgery.

Applying for an NHS Boob Job

Despite the above guidelines, there have still been cases reported of women attaining boob jobs on the NHS for psychological reasons including depression and low self-esteem. Those who think they may be eligible should visit their GP to discuss their problem. After this initial consultation, the GP may refer the patient to a psychiatrist to assess the effect that the problem could have on the patient’s mental health. At this stage, psychological tests may be required. If the patient is deemed eligible for the surgery, then they will usually be added to a waiting list – which can sometimes be several years long, but can be shortened if there are cancellations (as with any other NHS waiting list).

Applying for breast augmentation via the NHS is certainly not a quick or easy process, and there have been many reports of women being turned away following their initial visit with the GP. Second opinions can always be sought, however patients should consider carefully their reasons for seeking an NHS-funded boob job. If the reasons ultimately are financial, then looking into boob job finance options may be a more productive and straight-forward solution.

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