Marketing code of practice and a patient charter are helping to give realistic impressions of surgical outcomes.
By Harvey Ainley, Chief Executive of Transform
Among the points made in the recent Department of Health review of the cosmetic surgery and non-surgical treatments industry, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh criticised "highly misleading" advertising and marketing practices. Keogh called for tougher controls over the marketing of surgical procedures and raised concerns over television shows such asThe Only Way Is Essex, which he suggested encourage women to get surgery, both trivialising and glamorising it in the process.
The review called for a code of ethical practice to ensure that advertising is conducted in a socially responsible manner. It also recommended that certain advertising practices like time-limited deals, financial inducements and package deals such as "buy one get one free" offers should be prohibited.
Though the review could have gone further, these are certainly positive recommendations. But the burden should not lie solely with legislators. Providers of cosmetic surgery have a responsibility to behave ethically in all spheres of activity, including marketing.
Cosmetic surgery is a rapidly growing industry, forecast to be worth £3.6bn in the UK by 2015 and it is vital that its sense of ethics and responsibility grows along with its size. The industry must strive to ensure that the UK is recognised as a leader in safe and responsible surgery and treatments. As part of that all providers need to make sure they market themselves in an ethical manner and review their standards on an ongoing basis.
As the largest provider of cosmetic surgery in the UK, we want to ensure patients aren't misled or badly advised by methods used by some practitioners. However, we're not going to sit and wait for new regulation to come into force and have indeed already taken action.
Prior to the Keogh review we published a marketing code of practice in line with the commitments made in our Clear patient charter set out in 2012. Our self-imposed guidelines include promises not to alter images in order to give an unrealistic impression of a surgical outcome, using only Transform patients in our advertising and bringing an end to our patient referral scheme.
Indeed, we have just launched an advertising campaign that goes above and beyond the recommendations made by the Keogh review. The campaign exclusively features patients who have undergone cosmetic surgery procedures (rather than models) and uses no retouched imagery.
Transparency is a key part of acting as a responsible company. For example, we publish surgeon and procedure data including revision rates, infection levels and results of external inspections from the Care Quality Commission at transformclear.co.uk so patients can see exactly how we are performing (an industry first). This commitment to transparency has to include the way we market ourselves.
Procedures should not be trivialised and patients should always be given the information to help them make an informed decision. Marketing should not give an unrealistic expectation of what can be achieved from surgery and should not encourage people to undertake a procedure they would not otherwise consider.
Other responsible providers of cosmetic surgery must follow principles like these, primarily for the sake of patients but also to ensure that our industry is seen as responsible and ethical. Responsible marketing and advertising has to be beneficial and educational for patients so they can be confident they have access to information and choice without fear of falling victim to misinformation or unethical advertising.