Ministers accept cosmetic surgery recommendations

3 minute read

The regulator has acted uncharacteristically swiftly, with the cowboy complaints hotline already open.

State and federal health ministers have agreed to make “surgeon” a protected title and crack down on unethical and unlawful medical advertising in response to last week’s independent review of the cosmetic surgery industry.

AHPRA was also quick to accept all 16 recommendations, which will be backed by a $4.5 million investment to establish a special cosmetic surgery enforcement unit within the Medical Board.

The recommendations broadly cover minimum training standards, misleading advertising, under-reporting and how AHPRA deals with complaints.

The regulator has already delivered on one of the recommendations, announcing today that the dedicated cosmetic surgery complaints line for consumers is now available during business hours.

While the hotline was set up to make it easier for patients who were too scared to report harm otherwise, AHPRA said it would also make it easier for practitioners to make mandatory or voluntary notifications about unsafe cosmetic surgeons.

The hotline number is 1300 361 041.

Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons president Dr Robert Sheen, while critical of some of the report recommendations around minimum training standards, welcomed the ministerial endorsement.

“Minister Butler has made it very clear that only those practitioners who have undertaken a rigorous AMC-accredited surgical training program can call themselves cosmetic surgeons,” Dr Sheen said.

“Is AHPRA going to persist in its reckless and irresponsible plan to ‘endorse’ the non-specialists to perform cosmetic surgery?”

AMA president, Professor Steve Robson, also said the devil would be in the detail.

“We need the health ministers to quickly and clearly articulate who may call themselves a surgeon and what the appropriate qualifications are,” Professor Robson said over the weekend.

“This must ensure consumers have a clear understanding of the training and experience of the provider of surgical procedures, and that these practitioners have appropriate training and experience in performing them.

A key – and wholly expected – recommendation to come out of the review is banning the use of patient testimonials for cosmetic surgery.

The National Law currently includes the ban, but earlier in the year health ministers endorsed its removal as part of amendments to the National Law.

Those amendments are due to be debated in Queensland Parliament very shortly, but the AMA is calling for them to be axed.

“The Queensland parliament must now back in the agreement by ministers and withdraw the National Law amendment bill,” Professor Robson said.

The AMA said it had been fighting for years to preserve the use of the title “surgeon” only for practitioners who have undertaken significant, accredited surgical training, such as plastic surgeons.

However, one GP accused the peak body for plastic surgeons of taking advantage of the crisis to limit who can perform skin cancer surgery.

“GPs and skin cancer physicians were incredibly saddened by the recent comments from the president of Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons in an editorial piece last Thursday suggesting that only plastic surgeons and dermatologists should be involved in the surgical excision of skin cancers,” GP Dr Chris Irwin, president of the Australian Society of General Practice and a skin cancer specialist, told The Medical Republic.

“To be an accredited member of the [Skin Cancer College Australasia], an already fully qualified and AHPRA-registered specialist needs qualifications in the advanced microscopic examination and diagnosis of skin cancers – something that is not a requirement for the College of Surgeons.”

Dr Irwin said GPs surgically removed 49% of all melanomas diagnosed in Australia in 2014, while specialist surgeons removed 34%.

“In fact, there is good evidence that the care being provided by specialist general practitioners and skin cancer physicians is at least as good, if not better,” he said.

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