Yes, we need to take down cosmetic surgery cowboys. But the Apprentice's Leah Totton won't be the first to try

The industry has been calling for stiffer regulation for some time

Lord Sugar sided with Leah Totton in the final of The Apprentice
Lord Sugar sided with Leah Totton in the final of The Apprentice

The Apprentice winner Leah Totton’s statement that the cosmetic treatments industry is dominated by ‘cowboys’ and needs to be cleaned up (thus providing a fantastic business opportunity for Lord Sugar) is well intentioned, but does not tell the whole story.

I couldn’t agree more that the ‘cowboys’ need to be driven out of the sector. However, the truth is that Leah is a white knight arriving late to the battle as parts of the industry are already working hard to ensure higher clinical standards and transparency and are actively calling for more regulation.

We responded to the recent Keogh Report into the industry by calling for the introduction of a Specialist Register of Cosmetic Surgeons that properly reflects the highest standards in cosmetic surgery and ensures that all medical procedures are safe and are performed by appropriately qualified practitioners in suitable facilities with high quality pre- and post-operative care.

There also needs to be a framework that guarantees patients are properly informed of the risks involved and given a sensible period of time in which to properly consider any medical procedure.

At the moment there is a lack of regulation over who can perform non-surgical treatments (the area Sugar and Totton plan to target), which is why non-surgical treatments such as Botox injections and dermal fillers are routinely delivered in non-medical facilities such as mobile beauty salons or hairdressers.

This is worrying and there should be more stringent regulation on who can carry out these procedures. Our injectors, for example, have to either be a doctor, or a nurse with a nurse prescribers’ qualification. It is also crucial that non-surgical staff as well as surgical staff are constantly assessed and trained.

Of course, for full-blown cosmetic surgery, which is a completely different market involving life-changing operations such as nose or ear corrective procedures, there are much more stringent rules in place - but they could be stronger still. Surgeons should only be allowed to carry out procedures that they have specific training and experience in; generic experience is not enough. They should also be continually audited; we voluntarily publish surgeon qualifications and procedure data including revision rates, infection levels and results of external inspections from The Care Quality Commission so patients can see exactly how we are performing, and have encouraged others in the industry to do the same.

Another area where responsible providers distinguish themselves from the cowboys is in the products used. The most reputable providers only use FDA approved dermal fillers (of which there are a handful) rather than the 100+ others on the market, genuine Botox (instead of other toxins), and the highest quality laser machines to ensure patient care and safety is never compromised for commercial gain.

Whatever happens to Leah in the future, investment in a full-scale, professionally run cosmetic surgery business will need to significantly exceed a £250,000 investment prize won on TV. With more regulation coming down the line that may preclude non-medical experts from performing even these basic non-surgical procedures, Lord Sugar may yet decide that an online bakery business was a better option.

Patricia Dunion is Chief Operating Officer of Transform, a UK provider of cosmetic surgery

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