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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Botox 'needs better regulation'
Botox treatment
Botox is gaining in popularity
The government has "bottled out" of imposing regulation on how Botox treatments are used.

The Expert Working Group on Cosmetic Surgery recommended in 2005 that Botox should be monitored by the Healthcare Commission to safeguard patient safety.

But the government said the industry should take the lead on improving safety, and has asked cosmetic surgeons to regulate themselves.

Cosmetic experts said currently anyone could set up shop offering Botox jabs.

Use of Botox - a highly purified and much diluted form of the botulism bacterium which paralyses the muscles - is becoming increasingly popular in the UK as a treatment to smooth out wrinkles.

Invasive procedure

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, BUPA medical director and chairman of the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services' Working Group on Cosmetic Surgery, said cosmetic surgeons had called on ministers two years ago to introduce regulations to protect people.

"There is no question that better control of these facilities is needed.

"We are talking about invasive procedures. Botox is a prescription-only medicine and patient safety should be paramount.

If we, the industry, don't step in these procedures will be less-regulated than ear-piercing
Dr Andrew Vallance-Jones

"If things go wrong, some patients could be left scarred physically or psychologically for life.

He said under current rules, almost anyone could set up shop in the local high street, don a white coat and start offering dermal fillers or arranging Botox parties.

"If we, the industry, don't step in these procedures will be less-regulated than ear-piercing.

"Self-regulation is better than no regulation. If we want the sector to maintain its success we must retain patient confidence."

Improving standards

Announcing the plans for industry self-regulation, health minister Lord Hunt said: "Cosmetic surgery providers have shown real commitment to improving levels of quality and safety in this area and so I have decided to ask the industry to take the lead in further improving standards.

Botox blocks the transmission of acetylcholine from the nerves to the muscle so it can no longer retract and it relaxes
As a result, the wrinkled areas smooth out and soften
The effect wears off after four to six months
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use Botox

He said the scheme would be monitored to check it was working.

"We do not completely rule out the introduction of statutory regulation should it become necessary in the future," he added.

Sally Taber of the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services, the body tasked with producing a set of industry standards, said they were prepared to set up industry standards but they still believed statutory regulation was the best option

Jenny Driscoll, health campaigner at Which?, said they were disappointed that the government had "bottled out" of regulation.

"There's an increasingly casual approach to non-surgical treatments - just look at Botox parties, where people are encouraged to drink champagne before going under the needle.

"The government needs to step in now because, left to regulate itself, it'd be all too easy for the industry to focus on introducing multiple codes that will just end up confusing people."

Jon Billings, the Healthcare Commission's head of independent healthcare, said it was important that patients had reassurance.

"We believe that a system of industry regulation can work and will be working with the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services to support the successful creation of an effective self-regulatory scheme."

Mr Douglas McGeorge, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said self-regulation was a "total nonsense" and a way of "passing the buck".

"Botox can be carried out anywhere by anyone with training in giving injections and there is no way you can self regulate because of the diverse groups currently offering treatment."


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