AHPRA’s cosmetic sheriffs start rounding up cowboys

3 minute read

The regulator has begun delivering on recommendations from the independent review of cosmetic surgery.

More than half of the 220 notifications made to AHPRA’s specially appointed cosmetic surgery enforcement unit since it was assembled in September have related to just 14 doctors, according to the regulator.

The dedicated cosmetic surgery hotline has fielded 60 calls so far and phone tipoffs have sparked 13 investigations, which adds up to one new investigation per week.

The allegations reported via the hotline range from doctors making disrespectful communication during consults to intimidation of patients and continuing to take appointments while holding non-practising registration.

“Crucially, the allegations relate to practitioners and matters which had never previously been reported to AHPRA,” said AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher.

Established in response to an independent review of the cosmetic surgery industry, the cosmetic surgery enforcement unit comprises two investigation teams and an advertising compliance team, as well as legal, clinical and administrative support staff.

All up, AHPRA created more than 20 new positions to staff the unit, which now handles all notifications and advertising complaints related to cosmetic surgery.

The dedicated enforcement unit is just one of the changes that the regulator has made since the release of independent review – there’s also an online cosmetic surgery hub, new guidance materials, an advertising audit, a special issues committee overseen by the medical board, an oversight group and a new set of draft standards and guidelines.

The new registration standard will show an endorsement on the public register when the clinician has met minimum criteria to practice cosmetic surgery.

The Australian Medical Council will develop and consult on what that minimum criteria will be.

Which existing training pathways should or shouldn’t be recognised as the correct one is hotly contested.

The Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, which is made up exclusively of doctors who have received AMC-accredited training in plastic and reconstructive surgery through the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, argues any minimum standards for cosmetic surgery should be based on its training pathway.

Then there’s the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery and Medicine, which offers training specifically on cosmetic surgeries but does not have an AMC-accredited program.

It believes that it is “the only medical college in Australia which provides education and training leading to Fellowship specifically in cosmetic medicine and surgery”, and that the RACS plastic surgery training does not have sufficient focus on aesthetics.

The independent report described the conflict between the two groups as “intense and very public”, and left it to the AMC to judge what the minimum standards should be.

AHPRA also proposes updating the medical board’s 2016 guidelines for medical practitioners who perform cosmetic surgery, expanding on the existing guidance.

Consultation on both the standard and the guideline will begin later this month.

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