New standards to get cosmetic surgery in shape

4 minute read

The ACSQHC standards released today aim to hold providers to account on safety and quality and protect consumers from exploitation.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has released national standards aimed at keeping the cosmetic surgery industry in check, amid concerns over safety and a lack of oversight. 

Last year, the was commissioned to review licensing standards for facilities providing cosmetic surgeries as part of broader reforms agreed upon by health ministers last September. 

Dr Liz Marles, clinical director for primary care at ACSQHC, said that given the massive growth within the industry – now worth half a billion dollars and performing around 100,000 procedures a year – it’s important that providers are held to standards and consumers’ interests and safety are prioritised. 

ACSQHC’s standards are designed to be implemented in any service providing cosmetic surgery, from small day procedure clinics to large health organisations. 

But they will not apply to non-surgical procedures or “minor surgical procedures such as mole removal” said Dr Marles – “GPs can still do that”. 

The standards align with a suite of reforms led by AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia, that require staff to be suitably trained and qualified, ensure safety and quality measures are up to par and that risks are properly explained to consumers. 

The aim is to protect consumers by ensuring there is no room for exploitation, ill-informed consent or unrealistic expectations, added Dr Marles. 

Of note to GPs, the new standards also decree that providers must be sure that patients have a referral and have undergone psychological evaluation before surgery. 

Speaking as a GP herself, Dr Marles said she was interested to understand what role GPs may play in the cosmetic surgery pipeline now that the requirement for a referral, which was introduced in July, was in place. 

“I think it’s similar to when we would refer a patient anywhere really,” she said. 

“Our role is, first of all, in helping that person decide whether it’s right for them to be [undergoing cosmetic surgery]. 

“If 20% of people who are presenting for cosmetic surgery have body dysmorphic disorder, it’s not really appropriate for those people to be undergoing those procedures. 

“GPs are in a really good position to understand what sort of mental state [their patients] are in when they’re making these decisions, because they know them.” 


As part of the new AHPRA reforms, patients must have a consultation with the person performing the surgery before proceeding, providing an opportunity to ask direct questions, said Dr Marles. 

GPs are also well placed to help people find accredited facilities and surgeons, to discuss general surgical risks and for guidance on what questions to ask their surgeon, added Dr Marles. 

Dr Marles acknowledged that GPs may have concerns about providing referrals to services that they may be unfamiliar with. 

“My view is that this gives the patient an opportunity to have a discussion … with someone who is completely independent and not involved in the process,” she said. 

“[GPs act] as a bit of a sounding board and an advocate for the patient. 

“It’s all part of the usual skill set of a GP.” 

Dr Marles added that she doesn’t expect GPs will suddenly be inundated with referral requests, nor must they understand the ins and outs of the procedures they are referring for. 

“We’ve often been worried about being inundated when there’s a change in policy,” she said.  

“But I think [the reform] just puts the brakes on things a little bit for consumers and gives them a bit more time to think about [the procedure]. 

“[It] is sending a message that it’s good to actually talk this through rather than just follow an ad, wind up [in a facility] and discover that you’ve walked out having paid a deposit and are scheduled for surgery the next day.” 

While the standards have been released today, Dr Marles said it will be unlikely that accreditation will take place until 2025, to allow facilities time to meet the standards. 

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