Safeguarding against misuse of needle and knife

Cosmetic surgery and medical aesthetics have never been more in the media spotlight. The scandal over faulty PIP breast implants, a critical review of cosmetic procedures by NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh and controversy over a young doctor winning TV’s The Apprentice with plans to start a “Botox empire”, have put the safety, morals and ethics of the industry under close public scrutiny.

Yet, despite negative publicity and a prolonged economic slump, demand for both surgical and non-surgical anti-ageing cosmetic treatments has continued to soar.

Looking younger is big business and having cosmetic enhancement procedures has become as accepted and commonplace as other less invasive beauty treatments.

Figures released by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) at the beginning of 2013 revealed that, although the number of overall procedures remained static, facial rejuvenation treatments experienced a double-digit rise.

While demand for procedures does not seem to have been dented by bad news stories, there has undoubtedly been a loss of public faith and trust, and consumers are understandably more wary and cautious about cosmetic procedures, both needle and knife.

While regulation may be some way off, steps are being taken to make patient safety a priority

Regulation has always been a minefield in the sector. Since the government made the controversial decision not to impose statutory regulation on this booming market, there have been concerns that things were left to get “out of control” and it was only a matter of time before “something went wrong”.

Industry bodies such as BAAPS, the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses, the British College of Aesthetic Medicine and Treatments You Can Trust have been working to raise standards within the industry, promote good practice, and ensure their members are offering the public safe and ethical services.

However, examples of bad practice among the minority, who do not uphold exacting standards, have continued to grab headlines and give the industry at large a bad name. Even some of the biggest shareholders and brand names in the aesthetic market may be repeat offenders.

What has become apparent in the wake of the Keogh review is the need for increased public awareness about safety and, in particular, the importance of finding the right practitioner, using the right products.

While the review highlighted some key points for change, regulation of the market is still a long way off and there is, therefore, a need for all those involved to take responsibility: practitioners for their professional ethics, and the way they carry out and market their treatments to the public; and manufacturers for what they are bringing to market.

But it is not just the industry that needs to take control in this as yet unregulated market; the treatment-seeking public also has a part to play. Doing your research is one of the key ways to ensure you don’t fall foul of cowboy practitioners.

Avoid clinics offering time-incentivised deals or two-for-ones. Indeed, the Advertising Standards Authority is cracking down on such practices. Stay clear of practitioners who cannot prove they have expertise, training and experience in the field in which they are practising. Make sure you know what products they are using, especially when it comes to fillers and implants.

“There is nothing glamorous about surgery,” says consultant plastic surgeon and BAAPS president Rajiv Grover. “These serious and irreversible procedures should not be sold alongside aspirational perks, as if they were part of a jet-setting lifestyle.”

While regulation may be some way off, steps are being taken to make patient safety a priority so that those who do choose to undergo cosmetic procedures can do so in an informed, educated and non-pressurised manner.

The UK recently launched the government-endorsed National Institute of Aesthetic Research (NIAR). The joint initiative between BAAPS and the Healing Foundation will be housed at the Royal College of Surgeons and aims to address the lack of data surrounding aesthetic and cosmetic treatments, highlighted in the Keogh review, by managing a prioritised programme of research.

“The continued free-for-all mentality, which also involves untested procedures being marketed directly to the public, must be reined in,” says Mr Grover. “This is why we’re pleased to launch the National Institute of Aesthetic Research, the first of its kind in the world.

“Thorough scientific evaluation, peer-reviewed studies and public education are urgently needed in the aesthetics sector; these have always been BAAPS’ own objectives and are now also the NIAR’s.”

The initiative, welcomed by Sir Bruce Keogh, implements an important recommendation of his review and should provide a major contribution to patient safety.