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'Unchecked plastic surgeons are butchering thousands'

Rogue cosmetic surgeons are "butchering" thousands of patients in Britain every year because of a lack of regulation of their work, a senior Labour MP warned yesterday.

Ann Clwyd called for the introduction of tough new guidelines to regulate the industry as she named one surgeon claimed by other doctors to be "verging on the psychopathic".

The Cynon Valley MP used parliamentary privilege to highlight complaints from 70 patients against David Charles Herbert, who practised in Preston, Nottingham and Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Mr Herbert was nicknamed the "flying doctor" because of his speed in the operating theatre, performing a face-lift in 40 minutes when other surgeons take between two and four hours, MPs were told.

Ms Clwyd said the surgeon - who was the subject of a BBC Watchdog programme in 1988 - was still operating despite the complaints and allegedly leaving a hospital in Nottingham in 1986 when staff refused to work with him. "It is just incredible that this man should be continuing to operate given the complaints against him," she said.

"There are allegations that he often settles out of court with patients in order to avoid bad publicity that would come in a court case. A number of surgeons, his close colleagues ... have also made very serious observations about his work, ranging from 'verging on the psychopathic' to 'crude' to 'he's a psychopath'."

The MP went into detail about some of the allegations against Mr Herbert, including one woman who was claimed to have nearly died from a bowel infection after a stomach-tuck operation. "One woman - and these are all allegations, obviously - was [also] left with a gaping hole in her stomach after a tummy tuck. A number of women have had to have corrective surgery after he performed breast surgery and he performed a face-lift without using enough anaesthetic. The list of allegations and complaints goes on and on."

Speaking during a debate in Westminster Hall, Ms Clwyd said she had pursued the case with the Department of Health, the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Government's chief medical officer.

But the GMC was not pushing for a misconduct charge against Mr Herbert and it was more likely that he would retire than a face proceedings, MPs were told.

Ms Clwyd said the case was symptomatic of a wider problem in an industry, dominated by the private sector, where people were spending millions of pound a year without sufficient safeguards.

While plastic surgery in the NHS was "generally very safe", there was a need for tighter regulation across the board,she said.

Among the MP's proposals was an improved patients' complaints procedure and an independent disciplinary body to investigate complaints, with surgeons being suspended during any inquiry. She added that unless someone specifically claimed they were a doctor or surgeon they could legally operate without any expertise. "I think there are far too many butchers practising in these private cosmetic clinics. To repair butchered surgery can be very time consuming, expensive and embarrassing for the person concerned," Ms Clwyd said.

She also criticised advertising that offered a wide range of cosmetic treatments - from face-lifts to chin tucks, nose realignment, ear corrections, fat removal and tummy tucks.

"So much of the advertising is totally misleading because it does not give the impression that there is any danger in carrying out these procedures," she said.

John Hutton, Health minister, said the Care Standards Bill currently going through Parliament would improve regulation of clinics where cosmetic surgery was carried out.