Sometimes it is easy to forget how much advocacy work goes on behind the scenes. I thought it would be useful to share what your College has been doing to manage the myriad issues we face in the cosmetic surgery sector.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) has been working with Fellows and specialty societies advocating on the issues associated with cosmetic surgery through direct engagement with government, regulatory bodies and the media.

RACS continually raises this issue in meetings with the federal and state and territory governments, as well as in written communication, submissions and via the media. Our advocacy efforts which have been going on for over a decade resulted in the tightening of policy by AHPRA predominantly in the fields of specialty practice for surgery and which medical professionals could call themselves specialist surgeons. 

In late 2019, the COAG Health Council Minister agreed that further consultation on whether to restrict the use of the title 'surgeon' should be undertaken. The then Health Minister Greg Hunt advised RACS that, following on from the Health Council’s agreed position, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would lead a consultation ‘in the first half of 2020’. 

Despite the delay in the consultation due to the outbreak of COVID-19, RACS continued to raise these matters with the federal and state and territory governments. This was included in our Tasmanian and Western Australian election statements, which both urged parties contesting the elections to support legislative change in order to protect patient safety. Often these issues were also shared with media by providing comments in interviews.

In December 2021, the long-awaited Health Council Consultation ‘Regulatory Impact Statement’ (RIS) was released in relation to the ‘use of the title ‘surgeon’ by medical practitioners in the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law’. RACS staff invited a variety of stakeholders, including relevant specialty society representatives to a workshop, ‘Titling Consultation and Cosmetic Surgery’ to discuss developing responses to both the Review and the Consultation RIS. RACS made its submission to this consultation in April 2022 and also issued a media release. 

RACS with the specialty societies: the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons and the Australian Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery have on multiple occasions shared their concerns with the media about reports of patients suffering adverse outcomes when elective, cosmetic surgery is performed by medical practitioners who do not have specialist registration in a surgical discipline. This statement was addressed specifically to the question of which practitioners should be able to use the title ‘surgeon’. The position outlined was also reflected in RACS’ main submission.

On 30 November 2021 AHPRA and the MBA announced a  separate review, the purpose of which was ‘To review the existing regulation and regulatory practices in use by AHPRA and the relevant National Boards to ensure they have kept pace with rapid changes in the cosmetic surgery industry and to make recommendations for any required changes. The issues of this review were interrelated to those being dealt with in the separate Health Council consultation listed above. RACS put in a submission in response to this review in April 2022 and endorsed ASPS’ detailed submission.

Other additional advocacy included a federal election statement issued ahead of the Australian federal elections. The issue of cosmetic surgery was one of eleven key priority issues that RACS identified.  We also continued to encourage support from governments at a state level with our South Australian election statement.