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Brexit could provide opportunity to clean up the UK’s cosmetic surgery industry

Posted: 07/11/2016


Data provided at last month’s British Association of Aesthetic Surgeons’ (BAAPS) Annual Scientific Meeting revealed that 90% of surgeons reported a rise (on average by nearly a third) in patients being dangerously misinformed about cosmetic surgery. This is despite an extensive Government review, new for-profit agencies claiming to regulate the cosmetic sector, and the launch of online educational resources for the public.

Surgeons believe that the impending exit from the European Union presents Britons with an opportunity to clean up a sector long described as the ‘Wild West’. There are calls for the Government to develop a multi-pronged yet clear-cut approach to ensure the future safety of UK patients. The key concerns discussed at the recent BAAPS meeting were as follows:

  • treatment sought is not appropriate for the patient – for example, the patient may have Body Dysmorphic Disorder;
  • the patient’s medical history means that the procedure is too risky or unfitting;
  • 40% of surgeons have seen problems with unregulated facial injectables, which could have been avoided if such treatments were prescription only;
  • continued rise in problems stemming from cosmetic surgery abroad, which can result in a cost to the NHS of £5,000 per patient on average.

Brexit is unlikely to impact on UK patients seeking cheap procedures abroad, but it does offer an opportunity to implement changes to ensure that cosmetic surgery in the UK is safe and effective. The members of BAAPS have made the following suggestions to help achieve this:

  • European surgeons should no longer have an automatic right to work in the UK, so fly-in-fly-out surgeons will not be as freely contracted by commercial chains which routinely use them for their lower cost;
  • businesses will be required to meet certain quality standards and to employ surgeons trained to a UK-defined standard, who are appropriately covered by UK or UK-equivalent indemnity insurance;
  • injectables to be classed as prescription-only medications (POM). By classing dermal fillers as a POM, the practitioners using them can be limited to only those with appropriate medical training, and their advertising to the public would automatically become restricted;
  • NHS hospitals should be entitled to invoice hospitals abroad if UK patients return following botched procedures with problems that are then treated by the NHS. 

Elise Bevan, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, said: “The proposals from members of BAAPS are sensible and achievable and we hope that the Government will take them seriously. Despite campaigns to educate the public about cosmetic surgery, it would seem that many remain far from well-informed. Brexit provides a chance to change the landscape of cosmetic surgery in the UK.”


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