Regulation of Cosmetic Surgery

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As with all surgery, cosmetic procedures involve various risks and potential for complications.

Because cosmetic surgery is typically elective, and generally seen as glamorous in popular culture, people may not approach it with the same seriousness that they would other surgical procedures. But if you're considering having cosmetic surgery, it's important that you discuss the risks with your practitioner and carry out thorough research about the procedure, your chosen practitioner's qualifications and the aftercare you'll receive.

How is cosmetic surgery regulated?

At present, there are measures and standards to help regulate the industry, but some cosmetic surgeons operate outside these regulations. Some treatments and procedures are unlicensed for cosmetic use but can be given at the discretion of doctors, or “off licence”, in some clinics.

Surgical practice in the UK is regulated by the General Medical Council (GMC) and practicing surgeons should be enrolled on its specialist register. However, some concessions are made for private cosmetic surgeons who have been practicing since before April 2002. By satisfying certain criteria, these doctors can practice without the need to be on the specialist register.

Invasive cosmetic surgery and laser treatments are also regulated under the Care Standards Act 2000. The Healthcare Commission inspects all registered establishments that carry out invasive procedures and laser surgery in the UK, and has the power to revoke practice licenses and to take enforcement action.

Some cosmetic surgical procedures are not covered by current regulations, such as Botox injections and injections of aesthetic fillers. Botox is not licensed for cosmetic use, but it can be prescribed “off license”, in which circumstances the doctor assumes liability for its use. Most fillers are tested in the UK as “devices” rather than as drugs. This means that they are regulated based on the standard of their production and not on whether the treatment works.

Are there changes being made?

A Department of Health report concluded that the regulatory situation for cosmetic surgery was not satisfactory because of the group of doctors who can practice without being on the GMC specialist register and the lack of clarity around the definition of “fillers”. Although practitioners of cosmetic surgery must demonstrate certain competencies, these may not be the equivalent standard of NHS consultants.

In response to the Keogh review  into cosmetic surgery procedures, the government has set out to improve safety in several areas. The Scottish Cosmetic Intervention Expert Group (SCIEG) was set up to assist the Scottish Government in ensuring provision of safe, effective and quality cosmetic services and in July 2015 a report was published.

In April 2016, Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) began regulating independent clinics in Scotland and from 1 April 2017 legislation was brought into force requiring all independent clinics in Scotland to be registered. See the list of registered providers here.

Aesthetic treatments provided by beauticians and beauty therapists are not classified or regulated in the same way as procedures carried out in independent clinics so they do not have to be registered with HIS.

SCIEG has recommended that aesthetic treatments be are brought in line with other regulated procedures under an appropriate regulatory framework.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) wants a full review of products such as dermal fillers, as they want such substances classified as medicines so they can be properly regulated. The organisation has also suggested that the term “surgeon” is legally protected and that there should be a compulsory register for practitioners. At the moment, anyone can call themselves a “cosmetic surgeon” and the consumer is none the wiser. BAAPS suggests, therefore, that you only choose a surgeon who is a registered member of BAAPS. This will ensure they are fully trained in their field and their expertise is recognised by their peers. 

Take the first crucial step with Thompsons

Making a compensation claim is a complex process, and claiming for botched cosmetic surgery is no exception. To help guide you through the process, an expert personal injury solicitor is a necessity. Thompsons can provide you with a lawyer who will help you achieve the best possible outcome on your case.

Thinking about a compensation claim? Talk to an expert on 0800 0891331.

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