Plastic surgeons today demand a complete ban on advertising for cosmetic surgery, annual checks on practitioners and tighter controls on the use of implants and injectables to curb the "wild west" industry.
Increasing numbers of medical and non-medical practitioners have entered the market over the past decade, they say, in the modern equivalent of a gold rush founded on human vanity and the quest for anatomical perfection.
But the latest casualties of the boom – the estimated 40,000 British women fitted with substandard PIP breast implants – have rendered urgent the need to halt the unregulated trade. The demand came as the NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, who is leading a Government review, said on Friday an insurance scheme for cosmetic-surgery patients – similar to that in the travel industry – could be introduced.
A breast-implant registry is also under consideration by the Government to record details of all operations.
Proposing a six-point plan to control the industry, leaders of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) said it would help protect the vulnerable from exploitation. Fazel Fatah, president of the association, said: "Over the last decade we have worked to educate the public on the many aggressive marketing gimmicks that not only trivialise surgery but endanger the patient.
"We have warned against the unrealistic expectations set by reality 'makeover' shows and against crass competition prizes promising 'mummy makeovers' and body overhauls. In no other area of surgery would one encounter two-for-one offers. The pendulum has swung too far." More than 100,000 cosmetic surgical procedures are performed in Britain each year, many by doctors who have had no specialist training. In addition, hundreds of thousands of non-surgical procedures are done, many by non-medical staff.
France already bans advertising for cosmetic procedures. The 200-member Baaps, representing the top surgeons, first demanded Britain follow suit in 2009. Since then, demand for cosmetic surgery has continued to grow. Baaps surgeons account for about a third of the total but would be likely to benefit from any reduction in competition. They performed 38,274 surgical procedures in 2010, over twice the number conducted in 2004. More than 90 per cent of the operations were on women and the most popular procedure was breast augmentation.
Baaps also wants a register of silicone implants; dermal fillers to be reclassified as medicines, subject to more stringent rules; and a compulsory register of all practitioners instead of the present voluntary one for clinics, with an annual audit as a requirement.