Aesthetic medicine is a booming industry – the sector in the UK is growing at 10% CAGR – but it has never been properly regulated and it is facing a reckoning.
Critics say the UK is the only country in the world where you can carry out aesthetic treatments, such as botulinum toxin injections and fillers, without being medically qualified. Save Face, an organisation campaigning for a national register, says it receives an average of 20 and 30 reports of rogue practitioners in the UK every week.
The British College of Aesthetic Medicine has reported a dramatic increase in the number of harmful complications arising from procedures often administered by inappropriately qualified and poorly trained practitioners who do not understand the physiology of the face. It also claims the benefits of treatment are grossly misrepresented on social media and other online platforms.
Now, the industry is facing regulation for the first time.
What will the regulation entail?
After lobbying from the JCCP (Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners) and other bodies, the Health and Care Act 2022 included an amendment giving the Government powers to introduce a licensing scheme for practitioners who operate in England.
This will require all practitioners who perform specified non-surgical cosmetic procedures to provide evidence that they meet a new minimum standard of training, education and competence. However, this is yet to be defined.
The law passed in April 2022 simply gives the UK Government powers to introduce a licensing scheme to regulate premises and practitioners who offer certain procedures. The details relating to this new licencing scheme have not been devised.
What procedures will be covered?
All procedures carried out for cosmetic purposes will be licensed, except for surgical or dental procedures. This will include:
- the injection of a substance
- the application of a substance that is capable of penetrating into or through the epidermis
- the insertion of needles into the skin
- the placing of threads under the skin
- the application of light, electricity, cold or heat
What is the timetable?
Treating without the correct professional qualifications and training will be illegal by 2025, which gives practitioners and clinics time to assess the impact on their businesses and prepare for the forthcoming regulation. A public consultation is expected to begin early in 2023.
However, there is political pressure for the regulations to be increased sooner. In August 2022, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee called for the licensing regime to be introduced by July 2023, including a two-part consent process with a full medical and mental health history and a 48-hour cooling-off period.
What is the likely impact?
The intention is to make it easier for consumers to find qualified aesthetic practitioners – at the moment there is no central register and there is a confusing array of different types of qualification and training available. Critics argue these vary in quality and competency.
Beyond this, the Government is likely to make it mandatory for practitioners to have some level of insurance and to provide members of the public with access to a formal complaints and redress scheme.
For clinics, there will be significant implications. Practitioners will be required to work from premises that meet a national standard in health protection and infection control, which will be determined by local authority environmental health officers in the same way that they inspect restaurants and food outlets. A national inspection regime would include the storage of products and medicines premises from which practitioners are operating.
Additionally, a new standards regime is expected to include prescribing practice and the information given to clients by practitioners. It is likely that practitioners and premises will have to be inspected and checked against nationally agreed and enforceable standards before they can obtain a licence.
How should clinics respond?
Clinics will face increasing scrutiny even before the licensing scheme comes into effect. The BCAM is planning to launch a public campaign to help people make safe choices when seeking aesthetic treatments, warning that some practitioners are using medicines obtained on the black market that have not undergone checks in the UK. They will advise consumers on questions to ask to ensure the practitioner is suitably qualified and insured.
There is an opportunity for high-end clinics to differentiate themselves from “Wild West” competitors who are giving the industry a bad name. Rather than waiting for the new licensing regime to be introduced, which will only happen after a public consultation has been conducted, they can be pro-active about setting their own standards.
By voluntarily embracing the spirit of the new regulation and being open with consumers, they can steal a march on competitors. One measure would be only to employ practitioners listed on the JCCP Practitioner Register, which means they are delivering the aesthetic treatments set out in the CPSA Framework of Standards and Competences.
Politically, the direction of travel is clear and clinics which can reassure consumers that they are leading the way on raising standards will enjoy first mover advantage.
A joined-up approach is essential. This requires a communications strategy, beginning with a messaging framework, followed by a campaign to inform consumers and other stakeholders through media and social media channels. There is an opportunity for clinics in the vanguard of this movement to become thought leaders and advocates, earning positive media coverage that will feed into a wider marketing and customer acquisition strategy.