The dictionary definition of cosmetic surgery is: “surgery performed to improve the appearance, rather than for medical reasons”.
Despite its lack of medical urgency, and despite the recession – this is one field that has been found to be steadily increasing. In fact, it has recently come to light that there has been a 6% increase in plastic surgery in the past year in the UK alone. Research suggests that in 2011 more than 37,500 cosmetic surgery procedures took place.
Around one third of these were breast augmentation surgeries. Particularly worrying at a time where breast implants are in the news for all the wrong reasons. Jean-Claude Mas, head of Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) – which at one time was the third biggest global supplier of breast implants – has recently been placed under investigation on a criminal charge of causing bodily harm.
In December of last year women were warned that substandard PIP implants were more likely to rupture than other implants.
In the wake of this, surgeons from the British Association of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) have argued that all adverts for cosmetic surgery should be banned. Nose straightening and breast enlargement are medical procedures, they argue, and therefore advertising should be banned as it is for prescription medicines.
But would this really have an effect on the number of procedures that are performed each year? Haneen Al-Dhahir argues that it wouldn’t. “It’s one of those things that if you want it done, that’s pretty much it,” she said. “Just like smoking.
“Seeing celebrities or general figures you would want to look like would be enough of an advertisement,” she went on to argue.
BAAPS however suggest that, “the pendulum has swung too far”. They go on to say: “In no other area of surgery would one encounter Christmas vouchers and 2-for-1 offers… it is time for change.”
With this in mind, perhaps the question is not whether the banning of advertisements would or would not reduce the number of surgeries carried out, but rather the importance of tightening the restrictions surrounding them.
This comes in the wake of research that suggests that private cosmetic clinics are employing ‘unqualified’ surgeons to carry out breast implants, nose jobs and tummy tucks. Many trained in the UK do not appear on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) specialist register, due to the fact they have only reached a basic level of training and qualification.
This is in addition to an influx of cosmetic surgeons who have qualified in Europe before migrating to the UK. The two main professional organisations of plastic surgeons in the UK – based at the Royal College of Surgeons – argue that although qualified with diplomas and certificates, these are not necessarily an indication of reaching the same exacting standards as in the UK. And yet these surgeons are accepted onto the specialist register by the GMC.
“I’m very concerned indeed that they are not on the register,” said Tim Goodacre – a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. “That should be a bare minimum for independent practice in this country.”
Fazal Fatah the president of the BAAPS argued that: “the EU regulations are a significant problem. You can’t differentiate between any graduate in Europe”. This is in comparison with the stricter rules in the US, where medical qualifications gained in one state are not always accepted in another, and doctors sometimes have to sit new exams in order to find work across the border.
This is particularly relevant considering the significant difference between the number of cosmetic surgeries that are carried out in the US as opposed to those in the UK. Research suggests that in 2011 alone, more than 13 million cosmetic procedures were carried out in the US.
But, the US is a lot stricter on the regulations surrounding their cosmetic surgery procedures. This raises the question of whether it would not be more important (and feasible) to ensure that the surgeries carried out were safer, rather than to try and limit them.
Research suggests that the US is a lot stricter on the number of different fillers that can be used in cosmetic procedures, as well as in the amount of information that is required before and after the surgery. In the US, for example, there are less than a dozen injectable products. This is in comparison with over 100 products on the UK market.
Therefore, perhaps educating individuals on the negative aspects of cosmetic surgery, as well as tightening the regulations surrounding it to attempt to ensure that they is as safe as possible, is the bare minimum.