National standards a turning point for cosmetic surgery

Australians seeking out cosmetic surgery will have to have a general and mental health assessment before they go under the knife.

The change forms part of the first national cosmetic surgery standards, introduced on Thursday to bring the sector into line with other surgical services across the country.

The standards - which will be mandatory for all Australian facilities or services performing cosmetic surgery - will mean surgeons have to assure themselves a client is suitable for a procedure before they go ahead with it.

They will have to take into account the client's general and psychological health, and ideally get that information through a referral from the patient's general practitioner.

The change acknowledges the disproportionate number of Australians with mental health issues, including body dysmorphic disorder, who seek out cosmetic surgery.

The standards, developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, also dictate that cosmetic surgeons must inform patients about the potential risks and complications of their surgery, and the cost of addressing any possible problems.

Practitioners also have to seek clients' feedback following procedures under the standards, steer clear of deceptive or manipulative advertising practices, verify all surgeons' credentials and give patients instructions about post-operative care.

Commission clinical director, Associate Professor Liz Marles, described the introduction of the standards as a "critical turning point" for the cosmetic surgery sector.

The standards did not cover non-surgical cosmetic procedures such as fillers and fat freezing, which warranted their own review, the commission said.

They also excluded any surgery with a medical justification, including reconstructive or gender affirmation surgery.

"By bringing rigour to the cosmetic surgery sector with these tailored standards, Australians will gain confidence that when they visit a cosmetic surgery service accredited to the standards, they are receiving safe and high-quality care – no matter where they access the service," Prof Marles said.

“There are too many cases where cosmetic surgery procedures have had poor or tragic outcomes for vulnerable people who were unaware of the risks.

"These standards are a powerful lever for change.”

Australasian Foundation for Plastic Surgery co-director Garry Buckland said the standards would benefit people who chose to undergo procedures at accredited facilities.

“The reputation of cosmetic surgery and the integrity of those who practice it has reached an all-time low," Dr Buckland said.

"These standards, combined with reforms from Ahpra and the Medical Board of Australia, are necessary to restore patient and community confidence in cosmetic surgery and the medical practitioners who provide these services."

Australian hospitals and day procedure clinics have been bound by national safety standards for 11 years, so the fresh cosmetic standards brought the entire sector into line with all other day procedure services, the commission said.

Some clinics where cosmetic surgery was performed were already accredited against the previous national safety standards.

Most cosmetic surgery services in Australia were expected to be accredited against the fresh standards by 2025.

The new standards were designed to complement other reforms in the cosmetic surgery sector, which Australians spent an estimated $473 million on in 2023.

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