An independent review commissioned by the Department of Health has just reported on the terrifying lack of regulation in the field of cosmetic surgery and other treatments. It has referred to the injections used to plump up skin as a ‘crisis waiting to happen’ as dermal fillers, which at present are only covered by the same level of regulation as toothbrushes, can cause lasting harm to patients.

Non surgical techniques are the biggest growth area in an industry that is mushrooming. In 2005 the industry was worth £750m but in 2010 it was worth £2.3bn and it is forecast to increase to an estimated £3.6bn within two years.

The NHS medical director for England, Sir Bruce Keogh, led the review and pointed out that at present anybody anywhere can give someone else a skin filler. There are 190 different kinds of fillers available in Europe, compared to only 14 allowed in the US. Treatments such as Botox and laser hair removal are almost entirely unregulated in the UK.

Sir Bruce was particularly caustic in his comments on ‘distasteful’ promotions such as offering breast implants as a prize in a raffle or buy one get one free offers on breast implants.

The review found that there were no checks on surgeons’ qualifications in some parts of the private sector, a problem made worse by the fact that over half of all cosmetic surgery is being carried out by surgeons based abroad who fly in just to operate and then fly straight out again.

Trefine Maynard, a clinical negligence solicitor at Ashton KCJ, said: “It seems unbelievable that in this day and age we have still not put in place any regulation in this area of health treatment. We have many clients who have undergone cosmetic procedures which have left them deeply distressed and with permanent problems as a result of poor technique. Patients do not realise that many of those offering cosmetic treatment (let alone the products they are using) are not subject to any regulation. If they are having surgery it is common for them to see the surgeon for the first time for a few minutes only on the day of surgery.

We have had a number of cases where the surgeon has been flown in by the clinic just to carry out the surgery and then disappears back abroad. Where things go wrong, all too often in our experience the clinic then deny all responsibility even though it is nearly always the clinic who advertise for customers and who take their money. They appear to have no wish to accept any responsibility for the procedures that they are all too keen to try to sell to members of the public. If I sound outraged that is because I am. I welcome the review’s recommendations that there should be a register of everyone who performs surgical or non-surgical cosmetic interventions, that there should be a formal certificate of competence for cosmetic surgeons, that patients’ procedures should be approved by an approved surgeon and not a salesperson.

I remain dumbfounded that this area of medical practice has gone unregulated for so long. I, along with my colleagues, would be overjoyed if much tighter control is imposed and the avoidable pain and distress caused by errors in cosmetic procedures that leads so many to our doors, ceases.”