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More and more Britons are turning to cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance, with the number of procedures topping 50,000 a year. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) said there were 51,140 surgical procedures last year – up from 45,406 the year before.

The industry generated £2.3 billion in 2010 and that figure likely to exceed £3.6 billion by the end of 2016.

Those treating patients in the cosmetic industry can provide patients with surgical treatment such as face-lifts, tummy tucks and breast implants – or non-surgical procedure which include dermal fillers, Botox or the use of laser or intense pulsed light (IPL).

Non-surgical treatments account for up to 75% of the market value and can have major and irreversible adverse impacts on health and wellbeing.

Given these statistics and the scale of the industry it is striking that until recently as far as non-surgical procedures are concerned the industry has been largely unregulated, this prompted Professor Sir Bruce Keogh KBE to conclude in his recent report:

“In fact, a person having a non-surgical cosmetic intervention has no more protection and redress than someone buying a ballpoint pen or a toothbrush”

The absence of any proper regulation has resulted in patients receiving treatments from practitioners who have not had any appropriate training whatsoever. There have also been cases of inaccurate and misleading statements failing to properly manage patient expectations in relation to both the skill and expertise they expected and the outcome of treatment.

Given these circumstances, the General Medical Council has now issued guidance to doctors carrying out cosmetic procedures.

The chief executive of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, said: “We welcome the guidelines. I think it’s really important that the professionals, the doctors, think about the patient and that people have cosmetic surgery for many different reasons. Explaining fully to the patient and providing them with the relevant information and support is very important”.

The new GMC guidance comes into force from June, and covers both surgical (such as breast augmentation) and non-surgical (such as Botox) procedures.

The guidance says that doctors must:

Advertise and market services responsibly – any advertising must be clear, factual, and not use promotional tactics, such as ‘two-for-one’ offers to encourage patients to make ill-considered decisions. It also includes a ban on offering procedures as prizes. Doctors must not allow others to misrepresent their services.

Give patients time for reflection – make sure they have the time and information about risks, to decide whether to go ahead with a procedure. Patients should not feel rushed or pressured.

Seek a patient’s consent themselves – the doctor carrying out a cosmetic procedure is responsible for discussing it with the patient, providing them with the information and support they need, and for obtaining their consent. This responsibility must not be delegated.

Provide continuity of care – the doctor must make sure patients know who to contact and how their care will be managed if they experience any complications, and that they have full details of any medicines or implants.

Support patient safety – making full and accurate records of consultations, using systems to identify and act on any patient safety concerns, and contributing to programmes to monitor quality and outcomes, including registers for devices such as breast implants.

Later this year the RCS will also launch a new certification scheme, allowing patients to more easily search for a surgeon who has the necessary skills and experience to perform the procedure they are considering.

Details of all UK doctors, including any specialisms they have, are published on the GMC’s online List of Registered Medical Practitioners. The GMC is continuing to explore how additional information about doctors and their qualifications, in areas such as cosmetic practice, can be made available to patients via the register. This may require legislative change, and was the subject of a public consultation by the GMC in 2015.

In addition, the GMC is currently developing a guide for patients considering cosmetic procedures, which will give advice and information on things to consider and the questions they should ask their doctor.

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