Cowboys on notice as the government moves to put an end to the Wild West of cosmetic surgery

Cowboys on notice as the government moves to put an end to the Wild West of cosmetic surgery


The Australian government has intervened with decisive action to protect patients from dangerous cosmetic cowboys.


Australia, 3 September 2022: The Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) applauds the intervention of the government to enforce safeguards against the systemic butchering of patients by “cowboy” cosmetic surgeons.

These changes will tighten the law so that a practitioner who calls themselves a cosmetic surgeon must have completed Australian Medical Council accredited surgical training – the Australian standard for all registered surgical specialists. This will save lives.

Dr Robert Sheen, president of ASAPS, says: “It’s a sad day for healthcare in Australia when the elected representatives of the people have been forced to step in and do the job that the regulator has consistently failed to do.

“This is change that we have been calling for – for years. And we are so relieved that the government has listened to the victims and whistle-blowers who have shared their traumatic stories despite attempts by cosmetic surgeons to silence them through unethical NDAs and personal threats, and despite the continued inaction of the regulator, AHPRA.

“I hope this brings some comfort to the huge numbers of patients who have suffered the most devastatingly appalling life altering damage at the hands of cosmetic surgeons. Especially as the victims have not received even the most basic apology or acknowledgement from either the rogue practitioners who have perpetrated the damage, or from the now discredited regulator that has tolerated this sorry state of affairs for so many years.

“This is long awaited common sense. Cosmetic surgery should not have any lesser standards than all other forms of surgery, where lives can just as easily become permanently changed by a procedure. Beyond the avoidable human tragedy, the use of Medicare and taxpayer funds in rectifying these substantial injuries continue to place a strain on healthcare resources.

“Minister Butler has made it very clear that only those practitioners who have undertaken a rigorous AMC-accredited surgical training program can call themselves cosmetic surgeons. Is AHPRA going to persist in its reckless and irresponsible plan to ‘endorse’ the non-specialists to perform cosmetic surgery?

“It is critical that this change does not fall down at the regulatory stage, and that AHPRA does not seek to undermine the standards that the National Health Council wants upheld. Even though the health ministers are restricting the use of the title surgeon, we may still end up with AHPRA-endorsed practitioners who do not have surgical training but are performing cosmetic surgery under another manufactured title. And the regulation of practitioners still falls to AHPRA, who would need to enforce these changes. And they have lost all credibility in their ability to do this.

“We are very pleased to know that the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare will be setting dedicated safety and hygiene standards for cosmetic surgery practices and will limit surgery to properly accredited facilities. This is urgent and will hopefully only be the start of measures that address the serious risk to patients posed by dangerous cosmetic cowboys performing invasive cosmetic surgery in inadequately equipped private surgical facilities across Australia. These day surgeries are a haven for unsafe practices, insufficient infection control and reckless (and often non-existent) patient aftercare.

“These changes, along with a victim hotline and ban on testimonials are a big first step in starting to repair what the regulator has known about and tolerated for years. And we hope that it will be the catalyst for a shake-up of AHPRA and the Medical Board so that patient protection can be tightened, and confidence restored in the healthcare system.

“The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA), needs to fall into line with Minister Butler’s patient-first approach. The regulator has shown that this is beyond the current leadership’s ability and interest. AHPRA CEO, Martin Fletcher, and Chair of the Medical Board of Australia, Anne Tonkin, have presided over a culture that has tolerated a lack of accountability and responsibility for the dangerous situation that has been allowed to thrive in Australia, with breach after breach of medical and practitioner conduct. They have so far shown an utter lack of humanity towards the suffering of the patients. Suffering that has gone on under their watch.”

Background notes:

Australians should be able to trust that someone who calls themselves a surgeon has had 8-12 additional years of study beyond a basic medical degree, and that the surgical training is AMC-accredited – as it must be for any other field of surgery in our nation.

Surgeons of all fields have had a minimum of 8-12 additional years of study beyond a basic medical degree, ongoing training and professional development every year (Continued Professional Development) with rigorous assessment and scrutiny of their cases. This standard exists – it has simply not been enforced for those who call themselves cosmetic surgeon up until now.

The Australian Medical Council (AMC) is Australia’s expert and independent authority on medical training, and it has already comprehensively assessed and accredited the RACS to teach cosmetic surgery within the plastic surgery curriculum. Alternate organisations in Australia have been assessed and found seriously deficient. Yet AHPRA is disregarding and undermining this with its proposed endorsement scheme, which would include grandfathering of cosmetic cowboys.


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