The GMC has issued guidance for all doctors who offer cosmetic procedures in the UK. The guidance (which has been introduced following Sir Bruce Keogh's review) will come into force from June 2016 and aims to improve standards and patient protection. This guidance will apply to surgical procedures such as breast augmentation as well as non-surgical procedures such as botox or dermal fillers.

The key aims of the guidance are to ensure that doctors are appropriately trained and experienced to practise safely. It highlights the need for doctors to work with each individual patient to make sure their expectations about the outcomes that can be achieved for them are realistic. They are also required to consider the psychological needs of their patients. It also makes clear that doctors can not allow any financial or commercial interests in a particular intervention, or an organisation providing cosmetic interventions, to adversely affect standards of good patient care.

At present surgeons practising plastic surgery appear on the GMC's specialist register but cosmetic surgery is not listed as a specialist category in itself. Introducing this as a requirement would help ensure that cosmetic surgery was carried out by appropriately trained individuals.

In accordance with the new standards and ethical obligations detailed in the guidance, doctors practising in this area must:

  • seek patient's consent to the procedure themselves rather than delegating this responsibility;
  • ensure that patients are given enough time and information to consider the risks and decide whether they want to have the intervention;
  • consider the patient's psychological needs and whether referral is appropriate;
  • recognise and work within the limits of their competence – seeking advice when necessary;
  • ensure patients have the information they want or need – including continuity of care, medicines and devices;
  • take particular care when considering requests for interventions on children and young people;
  • market services responsibly, without making unjustifiable claims about interventions, trivialising the risks involved, or using promotional tactics that might encourage people to make ill-considered decisions [eg, two for one offers or offering it as a prize].

The GMC are working on case studies and information for patients who are considering having cosmetic procedures and this will follow in the near future. The Royal College of Surgeons has been working with the GMC and has published its own professional clinical standards for cosmetic surgery to compliment the improvements in this area. This is an important move forward for regulation in the cosmetic surgery sector as a whole. Proposals for certification for cosmetic surgeons and greater regulation across all professionals in the cosmetic industry (including non-surgical) would certainly address wider issues and improve the area even further.

The Care Quality Commission has welcomed the new guidance. All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery must be registered with the Care Quality Commission.

To view the guidance in full please visit the GMC website here and to access our previous blog in relation to cosmetic surgery regulation please click here.