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New GMC guidance for doctors carrying out cosmetic procedures – a step in the right direction

Posted: 05/08/2016

New General Medical Council (GMC) guidance, which came into force on 1 June 2016, describes how patients contemplating surgical and non-surgical procedures must be consented by their treating surgeon or doctor personally, allowed time to reflect, given all the information they wish and have their psychological needs considered appropriately. Cosmetic providers must also market their services responsibly. The guidance addresses concerns raised by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh’s review of the cosmetic industry in 2013, which highlighted a lack of regulation and the associated risks to patient safety.

We welcome the guidelines, of course, that goes without saying. However we also see cases of ‘non-doctors’ undertaking cosmetic procedures who are currently unregulated. For example, it is not unheard of for some physiotherapists, nurses and dentists, and even chiropractors and pharmacists on occasions, to inject Botox. Do the new guidelines apply to them? The answer is no. The GMC only regulates doctors in the UK but has said that it hopes the guidelines will drive up standards across the professions.

Physiotherapists are regulated by the Health & Care Professions Council, nurses are regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and dentists by the General Dental Council. Chiropractors and pharmacists are regulated too, by the General Chiropractic Council and the General Pharmaceutical Council respectively. The GMC has shared its guidelines with the other regulators and hopes that in doing so, the guidelines will be adopted into the other professions in due course. 

Greater regulation across all medical professionals in the cosmetic industry would offer increased protection for patients. The GMC’s remit is limited to doctors in the UK but it thinks that the guidance offers a framework which other professionals will find useful. The issue of ‘non-plastic surgeons’ performing cosmetic surgical procedures will also be addressed, to some extent, by the certification scheme due to be introduced later in 2016 by the Royal College of Surgeons. This will show whether a surgeon has the right training, qualifications and experience to perform the surgical procedure. It is very much a step in the right direction for patient safety. 

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