In a long overdue but very welcome development for patients of cosmetic surgery, the government is finally taking steps to tighten regulation surrounding cosmetic surgeons.

The cosmetic surgery industry has been woefully under-regulated for many years; due in part to the fact that cosmetic surgery is not a defined speciality and the majority of it is carried out privately. Despite this, more and more people are undergoing cosmetic procedures, with 51,000 people opting for cosmetic surgery in 2015, a 13% increase on 2014.

But it looks like the tide may finally be starting to turn, with new initiatives being introduced with the aim of tightening up the industry and establishing much needed protection for consumers and patients.

CQC’s scope to extend to cosmetic surgery providers

A new Department of Health paper published on 22 August 2016 will hopefully go some way to addressing problems with the industry, by providing safeguards for people considering undergoing cosmetic surgery.

The paper proposes expanding the public rating system currently operated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to providers of cosmetic surgery. This means that clinics will now be subjected to a rating system whereby the CQC will rate them as “outstanding”, “good”, “requires improvement” or “inadequate”. The results will be published online, allowing individuals planning to have cosmetic surgery to make a more informed choice about the clinic they have chosen before going under the knife.

Accreditation system for cosmetic surgeons in the pipeline

In addition to the CQC rating system, the Royal College of Surgeons has also announced plans to launch a new system of accreditation for cosmetic surgeons later this year, designed to go hand in hand with the rating system. This will hopefully help patients to find a certified surgeon with the appropriate level of experience, training and insurance to carry out a procedure.

General Medical Council guidelines already in force

The new proposals complement new GMC guidance which came into force in June 2016 requiring cosmetic surgery providers to market and advertise their services responsibly and give patients time to change their mind without feeling rushed or pressured. The guidance also bans doctors from offering two for one promotions on cosmetic surgery or offering surgery as a prize.

Criticisms of the cosmetic industry

The government’s decision to take steps to clamp down on rogue cosmetic surgeons stems from a growing concern about the industry following the publication of the critical 2012 report into cosmetic surgery providers by Sir Bruce Keogh in the wake of the PIP breast implant scandal.

Although the changes signal a move in the right direction, concerns still remain about the way that the industry is regulated, and further steps will be needed if patients are truly to be protected.

Douglas McGeorge, former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), which has long criticised the cosmetic industry, said that the changes were welcome but that patients still needed to be wary: “This is an arena where regulation has historically been lax and many practitioners can engage in procedures they are not trained or even qualified to perform. However, it is important to stress that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulates facilities - that is, clinics rather than clinicians. Their remit entails a facility or practice's aspects such as equipment, record-keeping and administrative areas, so we still call for the public to remain extremely vigilant of; and query; their surgeon's experience and accreditations.”

Considering cosmetic surgery?

The risks associated with cosmetic surgery can be serious. If you are considering undergoing a cosmetic procedure, the best way to protect yourself is to properly inform yourself about the procedure you are planning to undergo, and thoroughly research the surgeon or doctor you are thinking of using.