Stephen McCulley, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon. MBChb, FCS(SA)Plast, FRCS(plast)

Is your surgeon a surgeon?

Did you know that the term “surgeon” hasn’t been legally protected for a long time?  This means anyone, however qualified, could legally call themselves a surgeon without reprimand.  It seems amazing that in a legal system which regularly institutes legislation and recommendations to protect the health and safety of professionals and the general public such a glaring omission would still not have been rectified, but today, in the contemporary Britain, you do not have to be a qualified medical doctor who has undertaken post-graduate surgical training to call yourself a surgeon.

The huge risks

The risks are obvious.  Only 27% of patients check their provider’s qualifications before undergoing an operation.  This means that a huge number of people may have been, or may be operated on by someone who doesn’t have surgical qualifications, without them even knowing it.   This is especially worrying in the world of cosmetic surgery which is becoming increasingly popular and lucrative and therefore is more likely to attract fraudsters.

A recent study presented in 2011 which look at the top cosmetic surgery websites revealed that 36% of providers didn’t mention any qualifications, were not on the specialist register or were not even listed on the GMC at all meaning they were not licensed to practice medicine in the UK.  Consultant plastic surgeon Nigel Mercer has been involved in drafting new EU standards which should protect the term “surgeon”.

“There is currently no defined specialty of cosmetic or aesthetic surgery, so legally defining the term ‘surgeon’ is at least a positive step in preventing untrained and unqualified practitioners performing procedures that can put patients at risk.” said Mercer.

Members of the BAAPS have helped compose a set of proposed standards for cosmetic surgery for the EU which defines just medical doctors as suitable providers of these services, and only specialists who can prove competency through training, exams, audits etc as suitable providers of major surgical procedures like breast augmentations, nose jobs and tummy tucks.

The legal protection of the term surgeon is supported by the public.  According to a survey conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons 92% of respondents agree the job title should be restricted by law.

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