Cosmetic surgery crackdown includes cooling off period for patients

Photo: Cooling off periods could be as long as three months under the guidelines. (AFP: Sebastien Nogier)

Australia’s booming cosmetic surgery industry will undergo a major crackdown, with the Medical Board introducing tough new guidelines for doctors.

The industry overhaul will also include mandatory cooling off periods for patients who choose to go under the knife.

Chair of the Medical Board Dr Joanna Flynn said all doctors performing cosmetic surgery would have to follow the new rules to protect the public.

“We are aware that there are some practitioners who continually come to our notice as a result of complaints with poor outcomes,” she said.

“We think this will make it very clear what is expected of them and we hope they will modify their practices.”

Under the shake-up, all doctors will have to provide:

  • A seven-day cooling off period for all patients considering a major procedure;
  • A three-month cooling off period for patients under 18 years old, as well as mandatory counselling by a psychologist, psychiatrist or GP;
  • The treating practitioner to take “explicit responsibility” for post-operative care, as well as emergency facilities when using anaesthesia;
  • Mandatory consultations either in person or via Skype for patients considering prescription-only injectables like Botox and fillers; and
  • Detailed written information about costs for patients.

The ABC has highlighted many cases of patient safety and loopholes in regulations regarding cosmetic surgery.

Young people a focus of crackdown on booming industry

Cosmetic surgery is growing in popularity. According to the latest figures, Australians spend more on cosmetic procedures per capita than Americans.

Each year, 16,000 Australians get breast implants and another 15,000 undergo liposuction, with up to $300 million spent annually on anti-wrinkle injections.

Dr Flynn said new safeguards were needed, particularly for people under 18 seeking cosmetic surgery.

“We know that younger people are often a bit impetuous and often are vulnerable in ways that more mature people aren’t, in relation to self-esteem, and concerns about appearance,” she said.

She said an increasing number of young Australians were having cosmetic procedures.

“We think there are higher risks that require more strict regulation for people under 18,” she said.

“We expect that the changes will have an impact and that some people may reconsider having cosmetic surgery during the cooling off period.”

The guidelines will be mandatory for all cosmetic providers including specialist plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons and physicians, regardless of their qualifications.

The board also identified a range of safety concerns that it admitted it had no power to address, including the use of anaesthetics at private health facilities.

“We have referred the question of further regulation in the use of anaesthetics to state health ministers to look at,” she said.

Last month, the ABC revealed details of an investigation by New South Wales health authorities which found one of Australia’s most popular providers, The Cosmetic Institute, was giving dangerous levels of sedatives to patients without their consent.

Two Australians died from complications after cosmetic surgery

Australians spend at least $1 billion a year on cosmetic surgery and treatments, and the industry is growing rapidly.

Photo: Lauren Edgar (L) and Lauren James both died from complications after cosmetic surgery (Supplied)

In the last decade, two young Australian women have died and several other have been rushed to hospital with serious complications after undergoing cosmetic procedures.

In 2007, 26-year-old Melbourne woman Lauren James died after suffering complications from a liposuction procedure on her legs and buttocks.

Just over a year later, 28-year-old Lauren Edgar from Adelaide died from a bacterial infection after also undergoing liposuction.

Coroners found that both women were given inadequate post-operative care by their doctors.

Under the changes, doctors will be explicitly responsible for a patient’s care after surgery.

Medical Board fails to address surgeon turf war

Growing complaints from patients prompted the Medical Board to conduct a widespread review of the cosmetic surgery industry in Australia.

The board circulated draft regulations and asked for feedback from cosmetic providers in March 2015.

However, the board did not address the ongoing turf war between specialist plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons.

In Australia, a plastic surgeon has to complete a medical degree and then do another 10 years of post-graduate surgical training.

But anyone who has graduated from medical school can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, and perform breast operations, liposuction and even facelifts.

Plastic surgeons say this loophole puts lives at risks.

However, cosmetic surgeons say the plastics are trying to protect their monopoly on the market.

Dr Flynn said anyone who was advertising their qualifications needed to be able to explain to patients their particular training and experience.

“They are not legally able to claim training and expertise that they don’t have,” she said.