Dr Rob Sheen, FRACS, President of the Australian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS), says the situation is critical.
“There is a current crisis within medical care where the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ (an unregulated title that doesn’t formally exist) is being used by some practitioners to masquerade as specialist surgeons without the patient’s knowledge,” he explains.
“This is resulting in catastrophic impacts for those who are left with unsatisfactory outcomes, including permanent physical damage, mental and financial damage and in some catastrophic cases, death.”
Late last year, AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia announced an independent review of the cosmetic surgery sector had been commissioned. The review will call for submissions from the public in coming weeks and the findings of this review will be announced mid-year.
But for Dr Sheen, there is a change that could be made immediately that he believes will make things a lot safer.
“I think the solution is really, really simple,” he says. “The solution is to make doctors disclose to their patients what they are. So if you’re a dermatologist, you say, ‘I’m a dermatologist, if you still want me to operate on you, that’s fine. But you need to know that I’m a dermatologist, not a surgeon.”
“[AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia] should mandate full disclosure, and they should prevent doctors just fabricating titles which make them sound like specialists. I think that’s a really simple solution to a very complex problem.”
He says that according to research carried out by the ASAPS, 80 per cent of Australians believe the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ indicates a doctor with the title has a surgical specialty. Even though Kathy Hubble is a qualified nurse, she was part of that 80 per cent.
“I was really brought in by the advertising and the so-called integrity of my surgeon,” she admits. “And I had no idea that [cosmetic surgeon] was not a qualification, that there was no regulation behind the title.”
While she eventually recovered from the sepsis and cellulitis, Kathy has been left with lasting, debilitating pain.
“I’ve now ended up with neuropathic pain across my abdomen. So when I get really stressed or anxious I get a flare-up of electric shock-type pain under my skin and across my abdomen. It’s like red ants biting me under my skin.”
Kathy wants anyone considering cosmetic surgery to ensure they’ve thoroughly researched their doctor, and considered their reasons for wanting it in the first place.
“Give yourself time and really, really investigate the surgeon that you’re thinking of having any kind of procedure with. Look up their, their outcomes, and whether they do any outcome measures or research they can show you,” she urges.
“Get on the phone and talk to them and say, ‘Introduce me to some of the people that you’ve done surgery on. Let me talk to them.’
“And consider what you’re really trying to change in the first place, because I thought I’d done my due diligence but it wasn’t enough, and now I’m left with lasting pain – and there are others who are much, much worse off as well.”