woman holding pen and white cotton candyAustralia’s health regulator, AHPRA, has announced a review of patient safety issues in the cosmetic sector following decades of devastating cases of patient harm at the hands of ‘cosmetic surgeons’.

The Australasian Society of Aesthetic woman in white sleeveless shirt with blue eyes (ASAPS), which has been calling for change for years, argues AHPRA’s review is too little too late for those who have lost their lives and for those survivors who have had their lives changed forever.

In order to truly protect Australian patients from continued harm, ASAPS demands that the medical regulator put changes in place to ensure that practitioners are honest and transparent about their AHPRA registration status. The continuing deception embedded in the rogue title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ deprives patients of the ability to make fully informed treatment choices.

Every day across Australia, this litany of tragic patient outcomes can be directly linked to the misuse and misunderstanding of the title of ‘cosmetic surgeon’ by practitioners who are not registered, specialist surgeons.

Only practitioners who have successfully completed Australian Medical Council (AMC) accredited training can use legitimate approved specialist surgical titles. However, most practitioners who use the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ are not registered surgical specialists and have not completed AMC accredited training – the Australian standard of training in cosmetic surgery.

The review is missing important information from AHPRA around how it will monitor and regulate practitioners. The regulator mentions it will be updating the codes of conduct and guidance, but there is no reference to how they actually plan on monitoring it.

It is also revealing that patient safety is the final point of the scope of the inquiry when it should be the first. The priority should be focusing on AHPRA’s performance regarding patients, instead of its current ‘duck and weave’ approach.

For AHPRA to make genuine, lasting change, they must begin taking preventative steps – rather than waiting for things to go wrong, as they currently do. This could include prohibiting the use of titles that do not directly align with existing AHPRA titles or registration categories and enforcing the obligatory disclosure of a practitioner’s AHPRA registration category.

Patients must also see more clarity on what the required standard of training is because they can easily be misled by practitioners claiming to have had ‘years of training’, despite that training not being AMC accredited.

The highly deceptive title of ‘cosmetic surgeon’ can be used by any medical practitioner without AHPRA registration as a specialist surgeon and without Australian Medical Council-accredited surgical training. 81% of Australians agree that the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ implies that the doctor is a registered specialist surgeon.

This means doctors with no more than a basic medical degree and other non-surgeons, such as dermatologists, can call themselves a ‘cosmetic surgeons’. This can be particularly dangerous and, in some cases, fatal to patients.

This title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ merely hides the appalling fact that most of these practitioners have not achieved the well-established, Australian Medical Council (AMC) accredited standard of surgical training and hence they are ineligible for AHPRA registration as a specialist surgeon.

In Australia, Australian Medical Council (AMC) accreditation is the benchmark that provides a nationally consistent standard that patients can rely on for specialist treatment. It decides what specialist training is accredited, recognised and safe. AMC accreditation provides independent oversight of both standards of specialist education and ongoing compliance with ongoing professional education.

ASAPS President Dr Robert Sheen, said: “The laws exist, they are simply not being enforced. Australia’s health regulator (AHPRA) is not regulating.

“Any doctor who claims to be a surgeon should do so with Australian Medical Council accredited training and AHPRA registration as a surgeon – it is as simple as that. AHPRA must enforce this.”

“It is time for AHPRA to exercise the responsibilities given to it under the National Law – a law that gives AHPRA the power to prevent patient harm in the first place. Instead, AHPRA skirting around an issue that is exploding, without dealing with it at the source.”

The need for reform has been further highlighted in an investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Four Corners, along with several follow-up stories, which have uncovered a number of cases of serious patient harm at the hands of medical professionals calling themselves ‘cosmetic surgeons.

“Every day, registered specialist plastic surgeons are faced with the task of correcting botched jobs performed by practitioners who hold out to be registered specialist surgeons,” Dr Robert Sheen continued.

“The ongoing risks to the community are obvious. This joint investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Four Corners is an example of what is going on all over Australia, and it needs to stop now.

“It is too late to address the issue before something terrible happens – because it already has.”