One of my passions is to raise awareness about cosmetic surgery to try and change perceptions so that it is not portrayed as being a branch of medicine that is somehow less worthy than other branches of medicine.
There is an image that all plastic surgeons are unethical, money grabbing cowboys but the reality is very far from that (well I would say that wouldn’t I?).
One of the problems is that for many plastic surgical procedures, patients look for a surgeon by going on the internet or look at advertising and marketing in glossy magazines, rather than the traditional route of going to see a GP and being referred.
This has allowed a huge growth in practitioners who are not fully trained to set up and practice plastic surgery (practice being the operative word).
Whenever I talk to people about this, they are always shocked and alarmed to discover that there are so many untrained doctors performing surgery.
They think that surely there is a law against such a thing and that it should not be allowed, but I am afraid there is no law against this and it is allowed and it is going on all over the UK.
I feel so strongly about it that I have written a book called ‘Never Accept a Lift From Strangers: How to choose the best plastic surgeon for your cosmetic breast surgery’ and it is available from Amazon.
One might ask why I have had to write a book about this as you would have thought that it was obvious to see which surgeons have been trained and which haven’t.
Unfortunately, it is not obvious.
I talk about cases in my book of high profile people, both here and abroad, who have had complications following plastic surgery performed by non-trained plastic surgeons, people like Colin Hendry the Premier League football player and the pop stars, Kanye West and Usher, have all had family members who have been affected and I am sure they thought their plastic surgeons were fully trained.
The problem is that when someone asks me to tell them what to look out for, it is not so clear cut.
That is why many doctors and surgeons have very impressive sounding biographies and you may be fooled into thinking that they are properly trained, but only when you delve deeper do you realise that they have no formal training in plastic surgery or that they may have started it but not completed it.
To be honest I blame us, the professionals. I think that we make it too difficult for people to seek and understand what all the credentials mean.
You see, there are a lot of associations and qualifications that do not count for much, although there are others that mean a lot and stand for many years of specialist training in a very competitive environment and yet to the outside eye, they can all look good.
I do not think it is a problem unique to doctors either.
I talk in the book about a problem I had finding an accountant and only later realising that there are many advisors out there who sound credible but are not qualified chartered accountants.
The same is true in the legal profession as I was talking to a friend of mine who for many years I thought was a lawyer, but in fact I discovered he was neither a solicitor nor a barrister and actually had a paralegal qualification, and I have to be honest I still do not quite understand the difference which leads to the next question:
Does it matter?
Well in surgery, yes it does matter because surgical training is very long, very competitive and very hard.
It is an extended apprenticeship which takes many years, it took me thirteen years of training after becoming a fully qualified doctor (which in itself takes 6 years) to finally finish and receive my certificate for specialist training in plastic surgery, FRCS (Plast).
There are exams to take, culminating in a final exit exam which tests whether you are safe and skilled enough to be put in charge of patient care independently once the training is finished.
If you are accepted to become a full member of the BAAPS, The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, then there is an audit every year where we must submit our figures on the number of operations we have done and any complications or revisions we have had to perform.
We have a strict code of conduct to which we must adhere and we have a peer group that we are accountable to.
However, there are many doctors out there who are performing plastic surgery who are not a member of one of the plastic surgery associations (BAPRAS and BAAPS).
Not only does this mean that may not be fully trained in plastic surgery, it also means that they will not be held accountable to the same rules and ethical guidelines which they are bound to practice within.
I don’t think we are going to solve this problem overnight because I think there must be something inherent with people in a profession that they keep it shrouded in mystery to make it look impressive and worthy of their stature.
I would love to be able to say to you look for this one thing to be certain that your doctor is fully trained in plastic surgery and surely that would make sense.
It might help to stop the horror stories you hear about rogue practitioners working out of their front room.
The media love to pick up on these stories and report how terrible it is, but I think the real piece of news is that they are usually not doing anything wrong and it is perfectly within the law for people to perform treatment and practice out of their front room, even people with no qualifications, that is the real story.
I don’t think we will be seeing any legislation any time soon. We cannot rely on the Government to protect us from this, certainly not at the moment, so I see my job as a plastic surgeon to do what I can to inform and educate people as much as possible.
So, what should do if you are thinking of having plastic surgery?
Unfortunately, there is no easy soundbite but I would say do your research, look for reviews and ask for a personal recommendation for anyone who is a full member of BAPRAS or BAAPS, anyone who has FRCS (PLAST) after their name and anyone who is a consultant plastic surgeon in the NHS will be fully trained in plastic surgery.