Cosmetic surgery - calls for compulsory cooling-off period

Posted: 08/06/2015


According to new guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC), anyone having cosmetic surgery should be given a cooling-off period before going under the knife. The GMC has produced the guidance with the aim of making surgical and non-surgical procedures, such as facelifts, breast implants, dermal fillers and Botox, safer.

In 2013, a report by NHS England's medical director Sir Bruce Keogh highlighted the risks associated with the cosmetic sector. This followed safety concerns after nearly 50,000 women in the UK had PIP breast implants fitted. The French implants were made from an unauthorised silicone filler and were found to have double the rupture rate of other implants. In January, the Royal College of Surgeons published a consultation on proposals to improve standards in cosmetic surgery. The GMC is responsible for setting the standards that are expected of all UK doctors who carry out cosmetic procedures.

The GMC is producing the new guidance because of the particular risks around this area of medicine. One of the first proposals is that UK doctors allow patients of surgical procedures, such as face-lifts, tummy tucks or breast implants, or non-surgical procedures, such as dermal fillers and Botox, ‘enough time and information’ to change their minds about whether to proceed with treatment. There are concerns that patients are not given sufficient time to consider whether to proceed with the treatment and the new guidance says that doctors must not pressure patients into making rushed cosmetic surgery decisions that they may regret later. Cosmetic surgeons say they are already using a two-week cooling-off period.

Some of the main points in the new guidance say that doctors should:

  • be open and honest with patients and not trivialise the risks involved;
  • give patients enough time and information before they decide whether to have a cosmetic procedure, allowing them time to ‘cool off’;
  • ask patients to tell them how they have been affected by a cosmetic procedure, both physically and psychologically;
  • not target people under 18 through their marketing and seek additional advice from professionals who treat young people;
  • seek their patient's consent themselves rather than delegate it;
  • not make unjustifiable claims about the results they can achieve or give away procedures as prizes.

To further improve patient safety, the GMC is also working closely with the Royal College of Surgeons of England and others to publish information about which surgeons have the right skills to carry out cosmetic surgery. This would allow patients to check doctors' qualifications on the GMC's medical register.

GMC chairman Professor Terence Stephenson said: "Cosmetic practice is a huge and expanding area of medicine and patients, some of whom are vulnerable, do need to be better protected. We are clear that doctors must not pressure patients to make rushed decisions which they may end up regretting and they must give them enough information so they can make an informed choice.”

Elise Bevan, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “The GMC is now consulting with the public and doctors about these proposals to make cosmetic procedures safer. We understand that the consultation will run until September and final guidance is expected to be published in early 2016. We welcome this move and believe that the consultation is a step in the right direction to tighten standards and protect often potentially vulnerable people from avoidable and unnecessary risks."


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