An industry in crisis? Do insurers have a role to play?

A recent report in the UK called 'Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions' by Prof. Sir Bruce Keogh calls for greater consumer protection through much improved regulation and training, as well as proper redress if things go wrong. It recommends making the likes of dermal filings prescription only, and ensuring that all practitioners are registered, properly qualified and adequately insured.

As far back as 2008, a similar report prepared by the Irish Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance entitled 'Building a Culture of Patient Safety', also recommended that there should be a mandatory health care licensing system established in Ireland to apply to specific areas of practise, including cosmetic surgery. Five years on, and despite the fact that there have been numerous high-profile cases of serious injury to Irish patients due to the gross incompetence of certain practitioners in the area, cosmetic surgery continues to be an entirely unregulated industry.

Cosmetic treatments - from face-lifts to non-surgical procedures like dermal fillers, Botox and laser treatments - are a booming business in Ireland and the UK. But, despite their increasing popularity, such cosmetic procedures are increasingly being called into question as there are few barriers to entry for individuals considering setting up as a practitioner and there is no requirement for knowledge, training or previous experience. Is the time now right for the introduction of regulation and minimum levels of insurance - not only to control such cosmetic treatments but also to protect unsuspecting patients within the wider 'beauty industry'?

Yes, there are professional qualifications that the various practitioners can obtain; yes, there are various industry bodies and associations that lay down codes of conduct for their members (often including insurance cover as part of the membership programme), but the fundamental problem remains... these are all voluntary and while many practitioners are fully qualified, there is currently no legal requirement to be a member of a recognised body, to hold any sort of qualification nor to carry minimum levels of insurance cover as is the case with many other professional bodies e.g. insurance brokers. 

While the output from the two studies is very similar in terms of the recommended way forward, could the insurance industry play an important role in helping raise standards in the beauty industry especially at the lower end of the market by requiring certain levels of training and membership of a recognised body, as well as stipulating which approved products can be used. 

There are a number of specialist insurers that would like to come into the market in a meaningful way but they have historically been concerned by the lack of consistent education, qualifications and process. If the recommendations of the UK and Irish reports were to become a reality it would not only address the very real risks to patients who undertake cosmetic treatments at the hands of unqualified practitioners, but also increase the scope of insurers in the market and the availability of wider and more uniform levels of protection for practitioners and patients alike.

Without the urgent introduction of legislation to implement the recommendations set out in both reports, this unregulated industry is surely a crisis waiting to happen.