Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

The hard sell in cosmetic surgery advertising

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 16 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1223
  1. Neil Graham, fifth year medical student
  1. 1University College London, London WC1E 6BT
  1. n.graham{at}

    Unlike for prescription drugs, only weak and often voluntary codes protect patients from advertisements for cosmetic surgery. Neil Graham wonders why

    Advertising practices used by UK providers of cosmetic surgery during the recession, from “buy one get one free” offers to time limited deals and surgical holidays, are attracting unwanted attention as well as patients. Nigel Mercer, cosmetic surgeon and president of the British Association of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons, has been leading diverse calls for tighter rules, warning of a perfect storm of hype, public expectation, and professional greed in the sector.1

    The changes made by the Health and Social Care Act 2008 to consolidate the work of several regulatory bodies tasked with patient safety are limited. The Care Quality Commission regulates the premises in which surgery takes place.2 Any General Medical Council registered doctor can practise as a “cosmetic surgeon” in the United Kingdom. Rules about advertising are absent from the reforms.

    In contrast, the direct advertising of prescription drugs to consumers is illegal in the UK. However, UK and European law, professional rules, and government monitors such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulation Agency …

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