Australians seeking cosmetic surgery will soon need to pass a mental health check to qualify for treatment.
As of 1 July, these patients will require a referral from a general practitioner to attend two mandatory consultations with the practising surgeon.
The surgeon will then assess the patient for underlying psychological conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that may impact their ability to consent to the procedure.
The guidelines come from the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra).
It follows an independent inquiry, commissioned by the MBA and Ahpra, into alleged misconduct in the industry.
The inquiry made 16 recommendations to improve the standards of health professionals practising cosmetic surgery and to ensure patient safety. The MBA and Ahpra accepted all 16.
What is cosmetic surgery?
The MBA and Ahpra define cosmetic surgery as procedures that cut beneath the skin and alter a body’s appearance with the main purpose of achieving “what the patient perceives to be a more desirable appearance”.
This includes breast implants, nose jobs, face lifts, tummy tucks, liposuction, eyelid surgery and cosmetic genital surgery.
It does not include procedures that “may be medically justified”.
Mental health check
Patients will need to have two mental health checks with their surgeon, or a registered health practitioner who works with the surgeon, to check their mental health prior to the operation. This will include discussing a patient’s motivation for surgery.
If deemed “suitable”, the patient will then be subject to a seven-day cooling-off period before surgery can be booked.
If deemed “unsuitable”, that surgeon will not perform the procedure, but this does not prevent the patient from repeating the process elsewhere. The surgeon is required to refer the discharged patient “for evaluation to a psychologist, psychiatrist or general practitioner”.
The latest guidelines also emphasise surgeons’ responsibility to be fully transparent so that eligible patients can provide informed consent.
This means patients must be clearly aware of their surgeon’s qualifications, the limitations of the procedure, the risks, and the possibility of ongoing treatment and costs.
All advertising and marketing material must also adhere to these standards.
In addition, the guidelines state that surgeons are responsible for patients’ post-operative care. If they can’t oversee this, they will need to make alternative arrangements on behalf of the patient.
Prior to any surgery, surgeons also need to inform patients of their right to lodge a complaint if they are dissatisfied with their surgery.
This also means referring them to the existing complaints mechanisms available.
What about non-surgical procedures?
A spokesperson for Ahpra told TDA that non-surgical cosmetic procedures are not subject to the same new guidelines introduced for cosmetic surgeries.
However, practitioners for non-surgical procedures are encouraged to discuss a patient’s mental health where relevant. Patients seeking this kind of treatment do not require a GP referral.
Non-surgical cosmetic procedures are defined as not cutting beneath the skin, but could include piercing the skin. This includes injectables, laser hair removal, and hair transplants.