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Royal College of Surgeons publishes landmark document on professional standards for cosmetic practice

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has published a landmark document setting out professional standards for cosmetic practice, addressing the widespread lack of regulation of all aspects of the industry. 

Cosmetic surgery as a commodity

Cosmetic surgeries and treatments are most often carried out for psychological and social, rather than functional, reasons, and are frequently sought out by people who are looking to "feel better" about themselves in disruptive times in their lives. 

Hard-selling tactics aimed at potentially vulnerable groups of people, combined with the lack of regulation – which means that invasive procedures such as laser treatment or injectables (Botox® and dermal fillers being prime examples) may be carried out anywhere, by anyone – can lead to potentially catastrophic situations for patients, both physically and mentally, as well as to exploitation from unscrupulous practitioners.

The Royal College of Surgeons reacts

The RCS document builds on previous work from the Department of Health, Healthcare Commission and Independent Healthcare Advisory Service over the past six years.  Key points from the document are:

  • The recommendation that only licensed doctors, registered dentists and registered nurses should provide any cosmetic treatments (including laser treatments and injectable cosmetic treatments).
  • An emphasis on the need for a proper pre-procedure discussion with the patient, including an in-depth discussion of the procedure, to include topics such as the patient’s reasons for seeking the procedure, an understanding of the procedure and their expectations of the outcome, and any history (and the nature of) any body image and appearance concerns, including impacts on psychological wellbeing.  All practitioners should consider whether they should refer clients to a clinical psychologist.
  • There should be a standard written consent form with accompanying written information.
  • There is a need for specific training and specialist registers.
  • Marketing should be honest and responsible, and comply with guidance contained within the Committee of Advertising Practice’s help note Cosmetic Surgery Marketing
  • A patient’s decision should not be coerced by financial inducements such as time-limited special offers or discounts.  Deposits should not be required until after examination and counselling by the practitioner performing the procedure, to avoid undue pressure on the patient.
  • There should always be a cooling off period between the initial consultation and treatment – at least two weeks for invasive surgical procedures.

The likely impact of the RCS’s document

This publication is a significant response to the relatively unchecked, and unregulated, growth in the cosmetic treatment industry.  The fact that a body such as the RCS has released a document of this nature is encouraging. 

The government has responded to previous pressure to regulate the cosmetic industries, as illustrated by the enactment of The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010, which was largely driven by horror stories about the unfettered use of sunbeds by children and young people. 

It is ultimately for the government to take similar steps to regulate the other cosmetics industries more closely.  The Department of Health review into regulation of cosmetic interventions is on-going and, in light of the RCS publication, will make interesting reading when it is published this March.  Watch this space!