Page last updated at 00:16 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Warning over 'cosmetic ops risk'

Breast implant
Thousands of UK patients undergo procedures like breast enlargement

Lack of regulation and "professional greed" is putting patients undergoing cosmetic surgery at more risk than ever before, a leading doctor warns.

Nigel Mercer, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, called the cosmetic surgery industry an "unregulated mess".

Tighter control is needed to clamp down on issues such as two-for-one offers and untested products, he said.

His views are backed by several doctors writing in the Clinical Risk journal.

Cosmetic procedures are increasing in popularity, with year-on-year rises in the numbers of people opting to alter the way they look.

We need proper regulation of the industry and we need both surgeons and GPs to manage patient expectation
Dr Harvey Marcovitch, editor Clinical Risk

In a special addition of the journal, published by the Royal Society of Medicine, doctors from the UK and abroad argue that lack of scrutiny, increased marketing and media hype all put patient safety at risk.

Editor Dr Harvey Marcovitch said there was no area of medicine where UK patients were more in need of protection.

"We need tight control of advertising of cosmetic surgery - including internet advertising.

"We need proper regulation of the industry and we need both surgeons and GPs to manage patient expectation," he warned.

'Perfect storm'

Mr Mercer, who is a consultant plastic surgeon, said the industry has reached a stage where "public expectation, driven by media hype and, dare one say professional greed, has brought us a perfect storm".

He called for a ban on discount offers for surgical procedures, such as two-for-one offers and surgery holidays, which he says governments would not allow in any other area of medicine.

And Mr Mercer said legislation was urgently needed to regulate new products, such as dermal fillers, which currently do not have to be tested as drugs, unlike in the US.

"If you had someone sticking two cars together and selling them as a new car they would be in jail, but you can pretty much stick any new technology on the cosmetic surgery market which is untried and untested."

He said in terms of individual surgeons and other practitioners, the government had suggested a shared regulation option, but there was no regulatory body to take on that work.

"There does need to be a specific regulator for the cosmetic surgery industry."

Foad Nahai, president of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said that there was no question regulation of cosmetic surgeons was a "patient safety issue of paramount importance".

A spokesman for the Department of Health said there were a range of regulatory systems in place in the UK to cover a wide range of cosmetic services, from laser treatment through to surgery.

He added: "All providers offering surgery are subject to tough regulation by the Care Quality Commission."

And he said all medical practitioners offering cosmetic treatments, whether doctors or nurses were answerable to their professional regulator.

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