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Cosmetic surgery industry back under the knife - Article One

Cosmetic surgery industry back under the knife – Article One

Published on November 11, 2021 by Katherine Driscoll and Kasturi PK Kunalan

The regulation of the cosmetic surgery has not kept pace with the huge growth of the industry[1]. The largely unregulated advertising practices of cosmetic surgery clinics leave patients at risk of making ill-informed decisions[2]

The latest Four Corners report on the practices of one of Australia’s most widely known cosmetic surgeons has sparked a closer examination of the litany of unresolved patient complaints and irregular practices that stem from cosmetic surgeons acting in ways that can be potentially harmful to their patients[3]. The practitioner has since agreed to no longer practice medicine in Australia.[4]   

It is important to note that under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009, anyone with a basic medical degree who has completed their intern training can practice cosmetic surgery and classify themselves as a “cosmetic surgeon”. Plastic surgeons, on the other hand, are medical practitioners who have received at least 12 years of intensive medical and surgical training, including a minimum 5 years of specialist surgical training. They are also required to hold a specialist qualification from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. In other words, cosmetic surgeons are not qualified plastic surgeons.

The grey area of “cosmetic surgeon” as a title stems from the lack of specialty recognition of cosmetic surgery. It is therefore not regulated by the strict field of surgery regulation that applies to plastic surgeons.

What could go wrong?

The Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons conducted a survey and found that 81% of respondents believe that when a practitioner uses the title cosmetic surgeon, that person must be a registered specialist in cosmetic surgery[5]. The term seems to imply that a medical practitioner has a form of specialist registration when in fact there is no such requirement.

This apparent loophole in the definition of a cosmetic surgeon poses a number of issues to the patient. It allows medical practitioners who lie outside the definition of protected titles such as plastic surgeon to overstate their credentials in a way that can cause confusion amongst the public. 

There is no guarantee that under-qualified medical practitioners performing invasive surgical procedures can provide the highest quality health treatments to their patients.

One such example of the unacceptable practices that the industry has failed to regulate may include those reported by Four Corners.  Violating innumerable standards of medical care from hygiene practice to surgery procedures, patients have been left seriously harmed. The unveiled practices bring to the forefront the apparent correlation between medical credentials and surgical outcomes[6].

Calls for new Regulatory Measures

To ensure patient safety is effectively protected, experts have highlighted the need for urgent reform.

Our national health regulator, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has said it does not currently have the power to prevent people from using the title cosmetic surgeon because it is not a protected title under national law[7].

In November 2019, under the instruction of the Federal Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council “agreed to progress changes to restrict the use of the title ‘surgeon’”, and such restriction would include self-described “cosmetic surgeons”[8].

Dr Patrick Tansley, President of the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery outlines the calls for national standards such as the implementation of a national accreditation standard based on objective competencies linked to a publicly accessible registrar of cosmetic surgeons[9].

In that way, patients can be sure that the procedures they are receiving are undertaken by trained, competent and safe surgeons, and reduce the risk they will suffer injury or harm.

Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers have Accredited Specialists in Personal Injury Law who can talk to you and provide advice regarding medical negligence or other damages claims.

Please contact Julia Harrison, Partner to discuss.

To read Article 2 in this series, ‘Cosmetic surgery under the microscope’, please click here.


[2] https://aestheticplasticsurgeons.org.au/media/truth-and-transparency-in-medical-advertising-needed-for-patient-safety/

[3] ‘Shocking practices exposed in Australia’s cosmetic surgery industry’, Four Corners (ABC, 2021).

[4] https://www.ahpra.gov.au/News/2021-10-30-MBA-accepts-undertaking-from-Dr-Lanzer.aspx

[5] https://aestheticplasticsurgeons.org.au/media/doctors-without-surgical-accreditation-risk-patient-safety/ 

[6] https://aestheticplasticsurgeons.org.au/home/asaps-patient-safety-campaign/

[7] Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, ‘Four Corners Cosmetic Surgery Investigation’, Ahpra.Gov.Au (Webpage, 2021) <https://www.ahpra.gov.au/News/2021-10-26-four-corners.aspx>.

[8] Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, ‘Rogue and Unregistered Doctors to Face Tougher Penalties’ (Media Release, 21 November 2019).

[9] Shocking practices exposed in Australia’s cosmetic surgery industry’, Four Corners (ABC, 2021).

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