Clampdown on ‘cosmetic surgeon’ title signalled

Jolyon Attwooll

5/09/2022 4:51:01 PM

Regulators have been tasked with helping to protect the public from rogue operators, although details on the proposed reforms are unclear.

Advice from the Medical Board of Australia is likely to shape how the title 'surgeon' can be used.

Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler has said restrictions on the use of the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ will be part of reforms agreed by state and territory health ministers.
Announcing a ‘crackdown on “cosmetic cowboys”’, Minister Butler’s office referenced ‘a litany of appalling stories’ in the cosmetic surgery industry with permanent damage done to ‘untold numbers’ of Australians.
‘The time to act is now to ensure doctors providing cosmetic procedures must be appropriately qualified and work to the highest health and safety standards expected in Australia,’ it stated.
According to Minister Butler, state and territory Health Ministers have committed to preventing medical practitioners without adequate qualifications from describing themselves as ‘cosmetic surgeons’ – although the timeline is not yet clear.
A Department of Health (DoH) spokesperson said that under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, Health Ministers are responsible for determining who can use the protected title of ‘surgeon’.
This will be based on advice from the Medical Board of Australia and given effect through the state and territory laws,’ they told newsGP.
Work to restrict the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ has been under discussion since 2018, and is described as having ‘strong and broad stakeholder support’ in official consultation documents last year.
Action being considered by the Health Ministers includes either restricting the title ‘surgeon’ to 10 surgical specialty fields of practice, or restricting use of the title to specialist practitioners with significant surgical training, which would include dermatologists and specialist GPs.
The proposed reform has gained more publicity – and urgency – following damaging recent publicity about the cosmetic surgery sector, with Nine Newspapers in particular running a series of exposes about shoddy practices and raising serious concerns around patient safety.
The reforms agreed by Health Ministers will also involve a push for more appropriate qualifications, a move to limit surgery to properly accredited facilities, a ban on social media testimonials, and steps to inform patients better about surgery risks and their rights.
The Minister’s announcement follows the release last week of a review into the cosmetic surgery sector that was commissioned by AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia last year.
Finding that universal minimum cosmetic surgery standards are ‘non-existent’ in Australia, the review’s lead investigator, former Queensland Health Ombudsman Andrew Brown, included 16 recommendations to help protect the public.
At the heart of them is a proposed new ‘endorsement model’, which according to the report summary will allow AHPRA and the Medical Board to establish ‘minimum qualifications’ for practitioners to perform cosmetic surgery.
The review acknowledges that currently any medical practitioner can perform cosmetic surgical procedures without appropriate training or supervised experience.
It also noted the issues surrounding the use of the ‘cosmetic surgeon’ title but made no recommendations, stating it was under consideration by the ministerial council and outside the scope of the review.
Cosmetic surgery is not a recognised specialty and the title’s use is not protected under National Law.
A submission by the RACGP for the review into the cosmetic sector recommended that permitted use of the title surgeon depend on the completion of approved training and the demonstration of required competencies.
‘The protected title of surgeon will help the public better understand a medical practitioners’ qualifications,’ the college stated.
‘The RACGP suggests use of terms such as “cosmetician” and “Dr”, and not surgeons as alternatives for providers of cosmetic surgical services.’
The college has said over-restricting the title could ‘negatively impact’ GPs such as GP-surgeons, GP-obstetricians and GP-anaesthetists.
Minister Butler also announced on Saturday that the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care will develop specific safety and quality standards for performing cosmetic surgery.
At the same time, the Medical Board of Australia has been tasked with overseeing better credentials for cosmetic surgery by adding an area of practice to medical registrations.
It will also be responsible for clamping down on the use of testimonials and social media, as well as strengthening guidance for doctors and establishing a cosmetic surgery complaints hotline.
Both the Medical Board of Australia and the commission are due to report back in two months.
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