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Calls for the advertising of cosmetic surgery procedures to be more heavily regulated

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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Having cosmetic surgery is potentially a life changing decision. It can have a positive or a negative impact. You only need to look at the recent media coverage regarding PIP implants to see how cosmetic surgery can go wrong.

All surgery carries risks. The risks must therefore be carefully considered by the person wanting to have the surgery and weighed up against the possible benefits.

The difficulty with cosmetic surgery is that it has been glamorised by celebrities and, to some extent, by the industry itself. Cosmetic surgery is advertised in a way that no other surgery is and, at present, there is little control or regulation regarding the contents of these advertisements.

This has in turn had a major impact upon people's perceptions and perspectives and, it could be argued, affects the most vulnerable people in society. In this ever developing media world, children and teenagers have access to more images and more unrestricted information than ever before, most of which can be very influential and some of which can be unbalanced.

At the beginning of 2012, the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, called for a review of the cosmetic surgery industry, in response to concerns raised following the PIP breast implant catastrophe. The purpose of the review was to consider a number of issues, such as regulation of providers, regulation of cosmetic surgery devices and consent.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, Leader of the review and NHS Medical Director, stated, 'Many questions have been raised, particularly around the regulation of clinics, whether all practitioners are adequately qualified, how well people are advised when money is changing hands, aggressive marketing techniques, and what protection is available when things go wrong. I am concerned that too many people do not realise how serious cosmetic surgery is and do not consider the life-long implications – and potential complications – it can have...We want to hear views from everyone, particularly people who have experience of the cosmetic surgery industry or of other cosmetic interventions – good and bad – so we can learn what works best.'

This evidence has now been received and an interim report setting out the conclusions of the committee was published on 31st December 2012. The full report is due to be prepared in March 2013.

In relation to the advertisement of cosmetic surgery, the committee have suggested that they want to see tighter restrictions to attempt to protect patients. Amongst their suggestions are banning cost incentive or time limited deals for surgery, requiring a two stage consent process, providing better information for patients (including photos of expected bruising and scarring) and more details on the risks associated with surgery.

Vivienne Parry, a review committee member, writer and broadcaster, stated, 'Aggressive marketing techniques are often used to maximise profit...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.'

The committees' views and suggestions within the interim report are welcomed and hopefully the full report in March 2013 will lead the way to some much needed change and regulation of cosmetic surgery advertising. 

By clinical negligence solicitor, Carla Twist