AHPRA review to curb the excesses of entrepreneurial cosmetic surgeons

Cosmetic dermatology

By Michael Woodhead

30 Nov 2021

A major review targeting the cosmetic surgery sector has been announced by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and the Medical Board of Australia, which they say will address a culture of lax safety measures and profit-drive entrepreneurial promotion.

The external review led by outgoing Queensland Health Ombudsman, Andrew Brown, will look at “how to strengthen risk-based regulation of practitioners in the cosmetic industry” and its scope will include inappropriate advertising, especially via social media, the use of titles such as ‘surgeon’, the role of corporate business models and ways to improve more timely reporting of concerns about questionable practitioners and clinics.

The review follows recent media revelations about questionable safety practices and clinical standards in some cosmetic clinics that left patients with ongoing physical and mental health problems.

According to AHPRA, the rapid growth of cosmetic surgery as a multi-million-dollar entrepreneurial industry “has given rise to practices and marketing methods by some registered health practitioners which raise significant patient safety concerns.”

“Some worrying features of the cosmetic industry set it apart from conventional medical practice, including corporate business models which are alleged to place profit over patient safety, no medical need for cosmetic procedures, limited factual information for consumers and exponential growth in social media that emphasises benefits and downplays risks,” said AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher.

He said the review will consider the current risk-based regulatory framework of AHPRA and National Boards, including the current codes of conduct, the notifications and investigations protocols, and management of advertising offences in relation to cosmetic surgery.

Health Ministers have already committed to national consultation on changing the National Law to protect the title of ‘surgeon’, he noted.

The review will also aim to improve cooperation between national regulators and State and territory health authorities who have a major regulatory role in licensing facilities in which cosmetic surgery is being performed, said Mr Fletcher.

Weak safety culture

Medical Board of Australia Chair, Dr Anne Tonkin, said the Board was concerned there may be a weak safety and reporting culture in cosmetic surgery.

“It’s a very good thing that there are doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are picking up the pieces when patients’ cosmetic procedures go wrong. But to keep patients safe, we really need to understand why these practitioners are not always sharing their patient safety concerns with us in a timely way,’ she said.

‘If we know where the issues are, we can do something about them to keep patients safe,’ she said.

Another panel members Alan Kirkland, CEO of CHOICE, said the cosmetic surgery industry had changed enormously since the current regulatory framework was introduced, with procedures now promoted through Instagram and TikTok and available in shopping centres across the country.

“I’m keen to explore whether consumers are being adequately informed about the risks of some procedures and whether the regulators have the powers they need to prevent harm,’ he  said.

AHPRA said the primary focus of the review will be on cosmetic surgery but the recommendations may be relevant to the relevant National Boards in the cosmetics sector more widely. Public consultation will begin in early 2022 and the review will report by mid-2022, according to AHPRA.

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