Aggressive advertising used by providers of cosmetic surgery is more suited to "selling double glazing" and should be curbed, an interim report on the industry has said.
Offering operations as competition prizes should also be banned, according to a wide–ranging review of the regulation of cosmetic surgery being led by Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director. The review comes following the scandal in which 50,000 British women were given faulty implants. The PIP breast implants, made in France, were passed by European regulators but the filling was then switched from medical grade silicone to industrial filler normally used in mattresses.
The interim report contains responses from the medical professions, clinics, patients and the public following a call for evidence on the state of regulation of all cosmetic procedures, from injectable skin fillers and Botox to laser and light hair removal and surgery. The findings include a call for tighter restrictions on advertising and greater enforcement of existing legislation. Many feel that cosmetic procedures should be subject to the same advertising ban as prescribed medicines.
The writer and broadcaster Vivienne Parry, a review committee member, said: "Aggressive marketing techniques are often used to maximize profit. This may be the right approach for selling double glazing but not for people having or considering whether to have surgery.
"Everyone who decides to have cosmetic surgery should have time to think about the risks. Time–limited deals and offers on voucher websites pressure people to make snap decisions."
There are also calls for a ban on offering a free initial consultation, which puts pressure on the patient to go through with the surgery and for that consultation to be with the surgeon carrying out the work or at least a medical professional. Experts are concerned that nurses operating on commission are often the first person seen by the patient, who is subjected to pressure sales techniques.
Offering surgery as prizes in competitions and two–for–one offers should be banned, the report says.
Patients should also be given a cooling–off period by introducing a two-stage consent process and better information should be provided on the side–effects, including photographs of expected bruising and scarring.
There is also a call for greater training of those offering cosmetic surgery, including the protection of the title "surgeon" and regulation that only medically qualified staff could administer injectable treatments.
Sir Bruce said: "It's not always acknowledged that people undergoing cosmetic interventions are not only consumers but also patients. They are taking decisions about medical procedures that can have a profound impact on their health and wellbeing.
"The responses to the call for evidence send a clear message that the current regulatory framework doesn't do enough to support patient safety."
Dr Rosemary Leonard, a review committee member, said: "It is wrong that the first consultation is with a sales person rather than a medical professional. Surgery is a serious step, and a patient must be told about the immediate side effects after surgery as well as any potential long–term effects."
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons warned that the report did not go far enough.
Rajiv Grover, the organization's president, said: "The call for a medical professional rather than a salesperson to hold the initial consultation with prospective patients is a dangerously broad and inadequate definition.
"The only person holding a consultation with a patient should be the surgeon who will be performing the procedure. Otherwise, the professional could still be, for example, a nurse working on commission for practitioners based either here or even abroad.
"Recognised medico–legally, informed consent is essential for patient safety and only the surgeon carrying out the actual operation should be involved in the process. Achieving anything less at the end of this exercise would make a mockery of the review – if not turn it into an outright sham."
The review group will report in March with recommendations.
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