2. How to choose a cosmetic surgeon

As a private patient seeking cosmetic surgery, you are free to choose the surgeon you want. But with so many cosmetic surgeons to choose from, you’ll need to give yourself time to research their qualifications, reputation and experience and draw up a short-list of potentials.

  • Ask your GP’s advice about the specialist surgeons in your area.
  • Private hospitals and clinics should be able to give you details of the surgeons available, their qualifications and areas of specialisation within the field of cosmetic surgery.
  • Some hospitals and clinics run open days or information events where cosmetic surgeons give talks about their work. This gives you the opportunity to meet the surgeons and clinical staff on an informal basis. However, be wary if you are offered a special price or discount for making an immediate booking – this practice contravenes the Good Medical Practice in Cosmetic Surgery guide of the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services.
  • Personal recommendations are always valuable, but bear in mind that surgeons tend to specialise in particular types of cosmetic surgery. Be careful about making a judgement based on someone else’s recommendation alone as their situation may be very different to yours. The surgeon should satisfy specific criteria to give you a level of confidence in their ability.

Qualifications, registrations and memberships to look for

Almost any doctor can call him or herself a cosmetic surgeon. Even letters after their name, such as FRCS (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons), don’t mean that the surgeon has specialist training or experience in performing cosmetic procedures.

It can be difficult to decipher exactly what the different qualifications, registrations and memberships mean, so here’s a quick guide:

1.  Specialist register of the General Medical Council (GMC)

All surgeons should be on the register of the General Medical Council (GMC).

Surgeons who have completed six years of specialist training and have obtained the further
qualification FRCS (Plast)* are then added to the specialist register – plastic surgery section.

To check whether a surgeon appears on the GMC specialist register, you will need to know their full name and, if possible, their GMC registration number. You can then carry out a check on the GMC website, or by calling the GMC registration helpline: 0161 923 6602.

2. Surgeons on the specialist register but not the plastic surgery section

Cosmetic operations such as nose re-shaping and ear pinning may be performed by ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeons; cosmetic facial surgery may be performed by maxillofacial surgeons; cosmetic eye surgery may be performed by ophthalmic surgeons and cosmetic breast surgery may be performed by general surgeons.

Although these surgeons will not appear on the plastic surgery section of the register, they should have undergone specialist training in cosmetic techniques in their area of expertise. And they should have experience in carrying out cosmetic surgery on the nose, ear, face, eye or breast.

In such cases, it is important to check that the surgeon does appear on the relevant GMC specialist register (for example, ENT surgery) and you should only consider them for cosmetic surgery on the area of the body in which they specialise.

So, if you are thinking about having cosmetic surgery on different parts of the body at the same time, you should only go to a surgeon who is on the plastic surgery section of the register and has adequate experience in all the procedures you are considering.

3. Other health practitioners offering cosmetic treatments

Many cosmetic surgeons also offer non-surgical treatments such as anti-wrinkle treatment by injection (e.g. nerve-blocking drugs and dermal fillers), laser and pulsed light therapy. These treatments may also be performed by other health practitioners, for example GPs, dentists and nurses. Non-surgical treatments are also known as aesthetic treatments or cosmetic dermatology.

In England, the Care Quality Commission only regulates cosmetic treatments involving surgery. If you are considering non-surgical treatments such as wrinkle relaxing injectable treatments, dermal fillers or non-surgical laser and intense light treatments such as hair removal, you will need to check that you are seeing a properly qualified specialist.

As a minimum, any doctor or dentist carrying out aesthetic treatments should be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) or the General Dental Council (GDC), and any nurse should be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and work within its code of conduct.

You can check the registration status of any doctor, dentist or nurse on the General Medical Council, General Dental Council, or Nursing and Midwifery Council websites.

Nerve-blocking drugs are prescription-only medicines, which means they must be prescribed by a doctor or dentist. However, they may be administered by a nurse under the supervision of a doctor.

4. British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) membership

Only qualified plastic surgeons who appear on the GMC specialist register can apply to become a member of BAAPS. This organisation is recognised by the Surgical Royal Colleges as a legitimate professional body representing the field of aesthetic surgery. BAAPS members are expected to undertake continuing medical education in aesthetic surgery.

5. British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) membership

Surgeons on the GMC plastic surgery specialist register can apply to become a full member of BAPRAS. Many BAPRAS members focus on reconstructive surgery, but they may dedicate some time to performing cosmetic surgery procedures.

6. Care Quality Commission registration

Cosmetic surgeons working in hospitals and clinics are covered by the organisation’s registration with the Care Quality Commission (read more in our section on how to choose a cosmetic surgery provider).

The hospital or clinic is responsible for ensuring that the surgeons working there are suitably qualified and practise according to the Essential Standards of Quality and Safety.

All surgeons working in hospitals or clinics must participate in clinical performance measurement arrangements, which are monitored by the Care Quality Commission.

Read more: Your first cosmetic surgery consultation.