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RCS launches new cosmetic surgery information to protect patients from ‘aggressive marketing’ and ‘ruthless’ sales tactics

04 Oct 2016

The Royal College of Surgeons has urged patients to ‘think carefully before cosmetic surgery’ as it launches new, independent information online to counter the ‘aggressive marketing’ campaigns and ‘ruthless’ sales techniques that some unscrupulous private companies employ.

The cosmetic surgery industry is burgeoning - last year, over 51,000[1] cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in the private sector in England, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons’ audit of its members. Yet patients often find it difficult to choose a suitable surgeon and to obtain trustworthy information about the risks involved.

The patient resources on the RCS website offer advice on how to choose the right surgeon and hospital, explain the risks of undergoing surgery, and possible complications to consider. The web pages also include a section on questions to ask a surgeon before you consent to an operation, a downloadable checklist, and three short animation films.

The RCS’s advice also says patients should give themselves time to reflect on their decision – it strongly recommends taking at least two weeks between your initial consultation with the operating surgeon and consenting to surgery. It advises patients not to be afraid to ask questions, or feel pressured into consenting to surgery.

Vice President of the RCS, Mr Stephen Cannon MBE, chaired the Cosmetic Surgery Interspecialty Committee, which was set up to improve standards in cosmetic surgery.

He said: “The cosmetic surgery industry is booming, but due to the aggressive marketing and ruthless sales tactics of some unscrupulous companies, it can be very difficult for patients to find independent, trustworthy information which gives them a clear idea of what an operation would entail.

“Undergoing cosmetic surgery is a big decision which should never be taken lightly and we would urge anyone to think carefully about it. The vast majority of cosmetic surgery is carried out in the private sector and many people do not realise that the law currently allows any qualified doctor – surgeon or otherwise – to perform cosmetic surgery, without undertaking additional training or qualifications.

“Our advice is that if you are thinking of having some kind of work done, make sure you consult a surgeon who is trained and experienced in the procedure you are considering. Look them up on the General Medical Council’s Register; the RCS website tells you everything you need to know about cosmetic surgery.”

In the coming months, the RCS will also publish a register of ‘certified surgeons’ in different cosmetic surgical procedures. This will allow patients to look for a surgeon by procedure, who has provided evidence to the RCS that they have the appropriate training, experience and insurance to practise in the UK.

The Department of Health asked the RCS to produce the patient resources and set up the certification system, following the Keogh Review in 2013, in the wake of the PIP breast implant scandal. This found that there was an urgent need to improve regulation of cosmetic surgical and non-surgical practices in the UK; and that some doctors are performing cosmetic surgery even though they have no surgical training.



Case studies of people who have experienced botched cosmetic surgery and who believe the RCS resources will help others. They are available for media interviews.


Patient case study 1

A 48-year-old lady from the north of England could talk to you about her experience after she underwent botched eye surgery with a surgeon, who performed the operation at a private clinic. The mother-of-two has been left with vision problems and is unable to close her eyes, even to sleep at night, after undergoing cosmetic surgery on her eyelids in 2012. She has been forced to seek corrective treatment on the NHS.

She said: “My experience has been one long nightmare and I feel a sense of loss for all the time I’ve spent trying to correct the problems I’ve suffered. My eye sight was fine but now my eyes are sore, gritty and I can’t close them properly.

“I had no idea my surgeon was not insured to work in the UK or that he was self-employed.

“People need to know the risks of procedures. The cosmetic surgery industry is candy-coated and presented to you in a ribbon but you need to cut through the sleek appearance and find clarity about the procedure you’re interested in. The fact that medical knowledge is needed for these procedures gives people a false sense of security and it’s easy to be misled.

“The RCS is right to give patients an opportunity to access information they need in one place -people should use this website to minimise their risks. Think carefully before cosmetic surgery.”


Patient case study 2

A mother of two, who is aged 33, and lives in Suffolk. She underwent an operation after breastfeeding her children, to try to make her breasts symmetrical and uplifted, but says the results and aftercare were not what she expected from the consultation she had with her surgeon at a private hospital.

She says she had to have numerous emergency operations to remove parts of her breast after developing necrosis and is due to undergo complex reconstructive surgeries over the course of a two-year period.

She said: “This patient information is really important because you just don’t question a surgeon’s training or qualifications, until things go wrong, bringing their abilities in to question.

“In my opinion, I made the mistake of allowing the clinic to allocate me a surgeon without doing any background research on the surgeon and they also offered me £500 off if I signed up within 48 hours. If a deal sounds too good, it may not be the best place to go.

“Patients need to be aware of the risks and how unregulated the industry is because you go in to a procedure with trust but more information should be widely available to patients on exactly who they are putting their safety in the hands of. This goes for companies that advertise the services of surgeons and the actual surgeons themselves.”

Notes to editors

1. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

2. Membership of the CSIC and its sub-groups has included representatives of the relevant specialty associations including: the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS), The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), The British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (BAOMS), The British Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS), The British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) and The British Association of Otorhinolaryngologists (ENT-UK). It also included: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth), The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), patients (including the RCS Patient Liaison Group and The Patient Information Forum), Academy of British Cosmetic Practice, Association of Independent Healthcare (AIHO), Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), Regulators (General Medical Council, Care Quality Commission), NHS Choices, Psychologists, The Departments of Health in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Health and Social Care Directorate (as observers).

3. For more information, or to interview any of these patient case studies, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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