Cosmetic surgery ‘cowboys’ face repression backed by top doctors

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“It is far too easy for doctors to overstate their training and for patients to think that their so-called surgeon is sufficiently qualified when in fact their training may be rudimentary or non-existent.”

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Under current law, anyone with a basic medical degree can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, even if they are not licensed specialist surgeons with more than a decade of postgraduate surgical training.

Submissions, which closed last week, were received from GPs, surgeons, medical compensation insurers and societies and colleges including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS), the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons. Over 550 consumer survey responses were received, many of them from post-surgery patients.

A separate federal and state review to revise laws on who qualifies as a cosmetic surgeon is also underway, led by Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley.

Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said the college was calling for patient safety to come first, recommending pre-operative consultation with a GP and tighter controls around advertising to ensure that “doctors do not inflate the services they can provide”.

“This becomes particularly concerning with the use of social media influencers to market cosmetic procedures,” Price said.

Simone Williams thought the doctor who performed her first breast implant surgery had all the surgical qualifications.Credit:Rhett Wyman

About four years ago, Simone Williams underwent her first breast implant surgery with a doctor (whom the Herald and age did not name) she had researched online and believed she had all the surgical qualifications.

“The doctor said exactly what was needed and everything I wanted to hear. I thought I needed a breast lift but instead he told me I only needed implants.

A week after surgery, she knew something was wrong when the breast tissue slipped over the implant, causing a “cascade effect”.

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“What started at $6,000 for the first implants cost almost $30,000 with all the revision surgery to fix what was wrong,” Williams said.

Since the Macquarie University breast implant check-up clinics opened in partnership with the state government, Deva said about 20% of women who come through the door need an assessment for a possible revision surgery after having implants.

“We are seeing an increasing number of women who have had terrible experiences. You see the glamorous front end and nobody talks about all the women who are suffering,” Deva said.

Recommendations to stop rogue doctors from performing complex operations while calling themselves cosmetic surgeons were ignored for years, Deva said, with the industry’s first comprehensive review commissioned by NSW Health in 1999. Some recommendations made then were not adopted.

Dr. Naveen Somia, outgoing president of ASAPS, said the only way to protect patients from “cosmetic cowboys” is to require all practitioners to disclose their AHPRA registration status during consultations, on websites practitioners and social media platforms.

“Research by ASAPS has shown that 81% of Australians believe that when a practitioner uses the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ they are a licensed specialist in cosmetic surgery.”

Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons vice-president Dr Nicola Dean said AHPRA should seek to ban cosmetic surgeons from providing free surgeries to influencers in return for free publicity.

“Patients don’t realize the major risks they take when they have surgery. The issue of publicity and the use of social media by practitioners is key to reducing risk,” Dean said.

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