GMC calls for mandatory “cooling off” period in cosmetic procedures

  • Date: 09 June 2015

DOCTORS carrying out cosmetic procedures should give patients a "cooling off" period before agreeing to go ahead, according to new draft guidance from the GMC.

The guidance, which is now out for consultation, sets out the standards that will be expected of all UK doctors who carry out cosmetic procedures, both surgical and non-surgical. It also aims to help patients understand what to expect from their doctor.

Doctors offering cosmetic procedures will also be expected to:

  • Be open and honest with patients and not trivialise the risks involved.
  • Ask patients to tell them how they have been affected by a cosmetic procedure, both physically and psychologically, and check whether they are satisfied with the outcome.
  • Take particular care when working with children and young people – they should not target people under 18 through their marketing and they should seek additional advice from professionals whose expertise is in treating young people.
  • Seek their patient’s consent themselves rather than delegate it.
  • Market their services responsibly: they should not make unjustifiable claims about the results they can achieve and they should not use promotional tactics that encourage people to make ill-considered decisions. For example, procedures given away as a prize.

Plastic surgeons are already expected to offer a two-week cooling off period, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS). Rajiv Grover, consultant plastic surgeon and former President of BAAPS, has welcomed the GMC guidance. He told the BBC: "Cosmetic surgery has for too long been seen as a commodity but unfortunately once an operation is done – it can't be taken back to the shop."

Over recent years cosmetic surgery has grown into a billion pound business and this has sparked concerns about patient safety and the ethical standards of some clinicians involved in the sector. A 2013 report by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh highlighting the risks associated with the cosmetic sector. It followed safety concerns after nearly 50,000 women in the UK were fitted with faulty PIP breast implants.

Commenting on the GMC consultation, Professor Keogh, said: "Those having cosmetic interventions - either surgical, such as face-lifts, tummy tucks or breast implants or non-surgical, such as dermal fillers and Botox - take their safety as a given and assume guidance is already in place to protect them. This consultation is a step in the right direction to tighten standards and protect people from potential risks."

Professor Terence Stephenson, the Chair of the General Medical Council, said: "Cosmetic practice is a huge and expanding area of medicine and patients, some of whom are vulnerable, do need to be better protected.

"We are producing this guidance because of the particular risks around this area of medicine. We are clear that doctors must not pressure patients to make rushed decisions they may end up regretting and they must give them enough information so they can make an informed choice."

The GMC is also working with the Royal College of Surgeons of England and others to publish information about which surgeons have the right skills to carry out cosmetic surgery. This would allow patients to check doctors’ qualifications on the GMC’s medical register.

Professor Stephenson added: "It is vital patients should be able to tell whether a doctor is competent to carry out these interventions and we have called for new legal powers to enable us to do this."

The GMC consultation will run from 8 June 2015 to 1 September 2015.

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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