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The Regulation of Cosmetic Surgery

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So you may be wondering who I am and why I’m about to talk about my vote and what it has to do with the regulation of cosmetic surgery. You possibly don’t care. But I implore you to do so. My point in writing this piece is not so much to discuss the election, but, rather, to discuss something that is so frequently brushed over or marginalised in politics, and indeed, by society.

My Vote

As the General Election is fast approaching, I, like many of the British suffrage, am torn over that all-important question: who should I vote for? It seems as though any decision I make will be a case of picking the best out of a bad bunch, sadly. However, as I refuse to abstain, the most rational way for me to form my decision is to see who best reflects my beliefs and aims to improve areas which impact my circumstances. So as I spend the majority of my life at work, naturally this is going to play a massive part in how I vote. But my interest is not so much about me, but in safeguarding patients.


My Work

For the past year I have been positioned at PHI Clinic; a cosmetic clinic on the world-renowned Harley Street. It is a job I never imagined I’d have, but here I am. Now when I tell people what my line of work is – be it at a party, a flat viewing, or even among friends and family – it appears no one quite knows how to digest this piece of information. I am the personified elephant in the room.

The Response

After feeling awkward about this for some time, I then realised something; the cosmetic industry is one of the largest, most lucrative sectors in the wetern world. Indeed, the Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions (published by the government), stated that the industry grew by over £1,000,000,000 between the years 2005 and 2010, and it is estimated that it’ll be worth a whopping £3.6 billion by the end of 2015. So, as these figures would suggest, a great number of the population have had and will continue to invest in cosmetic work. Why, then, is everyone so hostile about the matter?

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Here are my thoughts as to why there’s such distrust and angst against the cosmetic industry:


Deciding which practice to go with is much like choosing which political party to vote for; everyone promises upfront to make you happy and to fulfil your goals, but sometimes the rhetoric and marketing spiel doesn’t match what is delivered. What tends to be the case is that even when you have a few good, honest people, they are overshadowed by the bad and in turn, their good intentions don’t amount to much.

One of the main reasons, in my opinion, that those having or performing cosmetic procedures are shunned, and plastic surgery is still such a taboo subject, is that for the most part the industry is unregulated. I found out this horrifying fact upon my first week working at PHI. What this means is that pretty much anyone can administer treatment, hence the abundance of horror stories in The Daily Mail.


Although medical professionals register with the government-run Care Quality Commission (CQC), meaning the practice and its practitioners have to meet a high standard of patient safety, and they are routinely checked to ensure they are complying with the strict code of conduct; unqualified persons can buy devices and perform cosmetic procedures, without registering or being monitored by the government. Speaking plainly, I could buy a laser which resurfaces the skin today, and start operating on people tomorrow.

The lack of regulation of cosmetic surgery in place means that patients end up seriously hurt, or worse, because these practices are not monitored by a governing body. And this is perfectly legal.

Bargain Deals

Now we all love a good bargain, but this should not be the case when it comes to our bodies. What strikes me on a daily basis, especially when talking to prospective patients, is just how flippant people are when it comes to their safety. See the chances are, if you are getting a B.O.G.O.F. on your breast enlargement, it probably won’t be the best experience.

What perpetuates this issue is discount sites, such as Groupon and Wowcher, which offer surgical procedures at a reduced rate. The reality is that these procedures are priced in a way that reflects the amount it costs to hire the staff, buy the consumables and implants (depending on the type of surgery), and then the skill of the surgeon. The same applies to non-surgical treatments, too. Any clinic offering rock-bottom prices are most likely to compromise patient safety, will rush the job, or is just too good to be true.


Treatment should not be Commonplace

On television, especially when watching a live chat show, if a guest so much as utters a brand the presenters are quick to step in for fear of advertising standards penalising them.  However, reality TV shows such as The Only Way is Essex are normalising cosmetic procedures, endorsing unregulated, unsanitary procedures, with no one stopping them. They demonstrate ‘Botox parties’ – a bizarre phenomenon involving botulinum toxin injections from your friends, in the comfort of your own living room.

What is even worse, is that because of this normalisation of the injection, a lot of people think of it in the same way as getting your nails done. Botulinum toxin is a drug, which, even if it can be administered by beauticians, hairdressers and the like, should legally only be in the hands of medical professionals who are able to prescribe. If, worst case scenario, a patient having the wrinkle injection goes into anaphylactic shock, they could die if they do not receive the right aftercare and medical attention.


Abusing the System

Stories like that of Josie Cunningham’s, a would-be model who received a free breast augmentation, courtesy of tax payers on the NHS, caused public uproar. Then, when she followed this up with her request to have them removed, the government felt the need to speak out about cosmetic procedures performed by the NHS. The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, stated that he was “against purely cosmetic work being done [on the NHS]”.

This is all well and good, but then you have the grey area of what constitutes as “purely cosmetic”, and, equally, with the extinction of cosmetic procedures in the NHS, even surgeons who have undergone medical degrees and training will have limited experience in procedures such as facelifts and so on. Therefore, if they decide to branch off into cosmetic surgery, they may very well perform one of their first procedures, having little to no previous training.


The Media

Sensationalist publications really do not help the cause. They both endorse this idea of maintaining eternal youth, while simultaneously destroying those who then seek treatment. In the past year, celebrities such as Uma Thurman and Renée Zellweger are proof of this. Unrealistic expectations for men and women to remain young and ‘beautiful’ need to stop.


Ignorance is not Bliss

After incidents like the PIP breast implant scandal, which left some 30,000+ women with serious health issues after industrial-strength silicone was used, it is a wonder why people still insist on shopping around for the cheapest deal, not doing their research and leaving their wellbeing to chance. Learn from previous mistakes.

The Solution?

It is not enough to say that everyone should be happy with their looks, because we as a society do our best to make sure that this is not the case.

The government’s response so far has been one of resistance. They state that creating a regulatory body will either cost the taxpayer or cost the patient/administer, which will cause friction either way. Although I see this being an issue, I cannot help but feel this is an excuse. With a lot of attention on safeguarding NHS patients – and quite rightly so – the cosmetic industry gets marginalised as ‘excessive’ and ‘unnecessary’. But these patients are still your mothers, your children, your uncles. They deserve safe treatment, regardless of their motives.


Stricter laws on who is able to administer treatments would of course be the best result, but with many a pharmaceutical company gaining from the lack of regulations, and their great amount of influence on the government, this is unlikely to happen.

At the very least, it is paramount that the general public are educated. The best thing we can do is make sure that those seeking cosmetic work are not treated like outcasts, but are forming educated, safe decisions. This can only come about if we stop thinking of this topic as the elephant in the room, and actually talk about it.

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