GMC publish new cosmetic surgery rules to protect patients

Following a review of the cosmetic surgery industry in England, the General Medical Council (GMC) has announced new rules that aim to tighten up regulation to reduce incidences of cosmetic surgery negligence. The initial review was carried out by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh and considered the risks associated with cosmetic interventions and the need for greater patient protection.

The guidance comes into force from 1st June 2016 and includes both surgical (such as breast augmentation) and non-surgical (such as Botox) procedures. The revised guidance also sets out the ethical obligations doctors have towards patients and the standards of care they need to provide.

What does the GMC's revised guidance state?

In future, doctors practising cosmetic surgery must: 

  • Ensure that their services are advertised and marketed responsibly. This means any adverts should be clear and factual. Anything that encourages patients to make ill-considered decisions, such as "two for one offers" or offering procedures as prizes, will be banned. 
  • Give patients all the information about any risks to procedures. Patients must have sufficient time to consider whether or not to go ahead with a procedure and should not be rushed or pressured into that decision.
  • Not delegate the responsibility for gaining a patient's consent to another person. The doctor carrying out the procedure is the one who must discuss it with the patient and provide all the necessary support and information.
  • Make sure that the patients know how their care will be managed and who to contact if there are complications; providing continuity of care. Full details of any medicines or implants must be provided. 
  • Fully and accurately record all consultations, identifying and acting on any concerns about patient safety. This will include contributing to records monitoring quality and outcomes, including registers for devices such as implants and joint replacements.

What is the GMC?

An organisation independent of government and the medical profession, but accountable to Parliament, the General Medical Council (GMC) helps to protect patients and improve medical education and practice across the UK. It sets the standards that doctors need to follow and makes sure that they continue to meet these standards throughout their careers.

Professor Terence Stephenson, Chair of the GMC, said, "Cosmetic interventions should not be entered into lightly or without serious considerations. 

"It is a challenging area of medicine which deals with patients who can be extremely vulnerable. Most doctors who practise in this area do so to a high standard but we do sometimes come across poor practice, and it is important that patients are protected from this and that doctors understand what is expected from them.

"Our new guidance is designed to help drive up standards in the cosmetic industry and make sure all patients, and especially those who are most vulnerable, are given the care, treatment and support they need."

Royal College of Surgeons' professional standards

Working closely with the GMC, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), has published its own set of professional standards, specifically for cosmetic surgery, which will supplement the GMC's guidance to make clear what is expected of all surgeons working in the private sector.

Stephen Cannon, Vice President of the RCS and Chair of the Cosmetic Surgery Interspecialty Committee (CSIC) said, "The message to surgeons and doctors working in the cosmetic surgery industry is simple: if you are not working to the surgical standards we have set out today, you should not be treating patients at all."

"Welcome changes, but more could be done"

These changes are welcome in a cosmetic surgery industry that has been under-regulated for far too long; however as the industry continues to grow more needs to be done. Tighter regulations are needed to make sure surgeons operating in the UK are properly insured and competent.

Catherine Kydd, a campaigner for better regulation of the cosmetic industry, welcomed the new guidance, saying, "Patients have a right to expect to be safe at the hands of any doctor carrying out a cosmetic procedure. The GMC's new guidance will significantly strengthen the protection patients have, and make it easier for them to seek action if things go wrong."

Failure to adhere to the new rules could lead to doctors being struck off.