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Cosmetic Surgery

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2015

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Margot James.)

I would like to raise the case of my constituent, Mrs Dawn Knight, who lives in Kip Hill in my constituency. Mrs Knight is one of the 45,000 people in the UK who undergo cosmetic surgery each year. In 2012, she underwent a cosmetic procedure on her eyes. The operation was arranged by a company called The Hospital Group and the surgery was done by an Italian doctor called Arnaldo Paganelli. During the surgery, he removed too much skin from her lower eye lids, and as a result, the inner parts of her eyes, usually covered, are now exposed to the air. Following this botched surgery, she must now apply artificial teardrops into her eyes every two hours to minimise the pain. On the advice of specialists at the Royal Victoria infirmary in Newcastle, she must also tape her left eye closed every night when she goes to sleep to avoid further damage. While she sleeps, she must apply a thick ointment in both eyes, leaving her unable to see until it is washed out in the morning. Doctors have warned her that this serious condition might result in loss of sight altogether.

This incompetent procedure has left Mrs Knight with serious health problems and a life-changing condition, but her troubles did not cease there. A fight to get the mistake corrected and compensation for her distress have thrown up major questions about the operation of The Hospital Group and the regulation of cosmetic surgery in the UK. The Hospital Group’s website claims to run the world’s largest plastic surgery facility at its private hospital in Birmingham. It also claims to have General Medical Council-registered surgeons. Anyone looking at its adverts or website will conclude that it is running a hospital similar to a local NHS hospital, but it is not. As Mrs Knight found when she complained, she had entered into a contract not with The Hospital Group but directly with Dr Paganelli.

Last Wednesday in Parliament, there was a public meeting at which constituents from across the UK registered their concerns about cosmetic surgery, particularly eye operations. Many people have found themselves in a similar position to Mrs Knight. Last year, 100,000 cosmetic surgery operations were performed in the UK. Is it not time for full and robust regulation to monitor and reflect the risk attached to all cosmetic surgery?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is not just about Mrs Knight; it is about many more such cases, and I will be talking later about exactly the need for more regulation and information in this area.

Although The Hospital Group tries to give the impression it is a hospital, it is, in effect, a facilities, management and brokerage company for individuals wishing to undergo cosmetic procedures. The Hospital Group is very good at self-promotion. It even has celebrity endorsements from individuals such as Kerry Katona. I think the celebrities who appear on the website need to examine their consciences about being associated with this organisation. Clearly, their endorsements are encouraging young people to undergo these procedures, forcing people into the hands of a company that I think is, frankly, completely irresponsible. The sale of after-care packages is emphasised. In Mrs Knight’s case, hers cost £3,500, but she found that this means nothing when things go wrong. It would appear that once The Hospital Group has people’s money, it is not much interested if things go wrong.

Having tried to pursue a case against The Hospital Group, Mrs Knight then tried to pursue Dr Paganelli for redress, only to find that he is bankrupt, lives in Italy and flies into the UK to operate on behalf of The Hospital Group. What astounds me is that he is still doing this today, working in hospitals or clinics that are run by The Hospital Group, as we speak. The Hospital Group’s response is that it is nothing to do with them. Dr Paganelli was uninsured and The Hospital Group says that it is the patient’s responsibility to check whether the surgeon is General Medical Council-registered and holds insurance. If we look on the website today, however, we find the words:

“Book a free consultation today, with our GMC registered surgeons!”,

giving the impression that all the surgeons have been vetted by this organisation when that is clearly not the case. Despite this, Dr Paganelli remains licensed by the GMC, meaning that he is deemed fit and suitable to continue to operate in this country, even though he holds no insurance and if things go wrong, patients have no redress against him.

Having examined this case and the others to which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred, it would appear that a plumber who comes to fix someone’s kitchen sink is more heavily regulated than someone who is allowed to operate on your body. The current law allows any qualified doctor—not just surgeons—to perform cosmetic surgery, without having additional training or qualifications. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has raised many issues about GPs who have undertaken cosmetic surgery without any formal training. Clearly, there needs to be more robust regulation of these private companies, which stand to make a fortune out of the misery experienced by people such as my constituent Mrs Knight.

The Royal College of Surgeons believes that the GMC needs to be given new legal powers formally to recognise additional qualifications or credentials, and I fully support that call. These should be displayed publicly so that people know that the doctors are properly registered and have gone through the necessary training. Will this solve malpractice and eradicate the problem of cosmetic surgery overnight? No, it will not, but it will at least ensure that some type of regulation is in place. It would be an important and significant start, and it would allow patients and employers such as The Hospital Group to tell competent cosmetic surgeons from cowboys, or indeed from anyone who has limited or no recognised experience in cosmetic procedures.

There has not been inaction in this area. Legislation was drafted by the Law Commission at the request of the Department of Health in 2014, following Sir Bruce Keogh’s recommendations in the wake of the PIP scandal. The coalition Government failed to find the parliamentary time to take it forward in 2014. You will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, that at that time the Order Paper was not exactly overflowing with legislation, so we need to answer the question why this was not brought forward. Both the RCS and the GMC are keen to bring in these changes. Again, the Government have failed to include such legislation in the Queen’s Speech. I ask the Minister to explain why that is the case, and when the Government intend to introduce such legislation. As I have said, it would have the support of both the Royal College of Surgeons and the General Medical Council, but it would also have cross-party support in the House.

May I also ask the Minister about the cost to the NHS? In Mrs Knight’s case, the cost of putting right the mistakes made by Dr Paganelli will have to be picked up by the NHS. As the hon. Member for Strangford said, this affects a large number of people, and the NHS is having to treat them at great expense because of the actions of organisations such as The Hospital Group and individuals such as Dr Paganelli. Is it right for the taxpayer to pick up the bill while those organisations and individuals are making absolute fortunes out of people’s misery? I do not think it is. We need to look into how the NHS can recover the cost of the treatment that Mrs Knight and others are undergoing at the taxpayer’s expense.

Some of the people who were at the meeting on Wednesday told horrifying stories about the ways in which in which the surgery had affected them. Some of them had partially lost their eyesight. There was the depression, there was the trauma, and there were all the other side effects of what had happened to them. Despite all that, however, some of the people who carried out those operations continue to perform this surgery. People are experiencing life-changing medical conditions. Something must be done, and perhaps the Minister needs to tell us that tonight.

The hon. Gentleman has made a very good point. It is not just a question of the initial cost. Some people will need lifelong treatment, which will be very expensive for the taxpayer. I think that there should be a mechanism enabling the taxpayer to recover some of the cost from private companies and individuals when things go wrong.

I am also concerned about the issue of regulation. These organisations produce a great many glossy brochures, set up websites and have celebrity endorsements, but it is clear that some of the people who undergo cosmetic surgery need counselling beforehand, and there is no legal or other requirement to ensure that they receive it. Surgery that may be seen as life-changing—and, in some cases, is, for the wrong reasons—may also not be appropriate for some of those involved. They are mainly women, but, according to various reports that I have read, an increasing number of men are undergoing these procedures. They are not right for everyone, and I think that counselling and advice should be a key part of the process before anyone is convinced about going under the knife. The companies involved clearly exert a great deal of pressure to ensure that a steady flow of people enables them to make the money that they do make.

Let me finally ask the Minister about The Hospital Group itself. It gives the impression that it is a hospital group providing healthcare services, but it is clear that it is actually a facilities management company brokering details between patient and surgeon. Its material is very misleading. For instance, its website deliberately states that its surgeons are GMC-registered. It even refers to the Care Quality Commission as though that gave it the stamp of approval, and provided some type of guarantee. A misleading impression is being given.

I ask the Minister to examine the way in which The Hospital Group in particular, but other groups as well, uses terminology. I think that the average man or woman in the street may get the wrong impression from the CQC symbol or the reference to the GMC registration. The fact that when things go wrong they find that The Hospital Group wants nothing to do with it, and it is up to them to decide what to do, is another matter. That is not the impression given by the misleading publicity—deliberately so, I think—that is put out.

My constituent’s case is one of many that have highlighted the need for regulation. The legislation is there and we should press forward as a matter of urgency because if we do not more people will suffer. If there is one thing that my constituent, Mrs Knight, wants, it is that other people should avoid the awful experiences that she has gone through because of the negligence and greed for profit of both The Hospital Group and Dr Paganelli.

I thank the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)for securing this debate on what is clearly an extremely distressing case for his constituent and an unfortunate one more generally. I want to pick up on the specific issues he raised to do with his constituent’s case before talking about the generality of the regulation of cosmetic surgery.

The hon. Gentleman pointed out the failure of his constituent’s doctor to have insurance and he will be pleased to know that, as of July 2014, new legislation required all surgeons providing cosmetic interventions to provide insurance and proper cover. A failure to do so would render them liable to undergo the fitness to practise tests conducted by the GMC. Those doctors operating outside the UK but in the EU who would have a temporary ability to operate in this country under the directive on mutual recognition of professional qualifications would still, under GMC regulations, be required to provide evidence of insurance cover. That legislation was brought into effect in August, which was clearly too late in the case of his constituent.

Will the Minister look specifically into the case of Dr Paganelli, as I understand that he is still practising in this country?

I will certainly look into that case, as it does not sound right. I cannot trespass on the realms of the GMC, but I will inquire into the specific case outlined by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the cost to the NHS and this is not the only area in which we have considered and continue to consider cost recovery for the NHS. It can be difficult as sometimes the cost of legal action outweighs the cost of recovery and it is not something that the service is used to doing. I am keen to explore it further, but in the context of the action we are taking, which I shall come on to, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand the need to take this bit by bit so that we get the process right. In principle, I certainly agree that if organisations cause a cost to fall on the NHS, as in this case, there is a good argument for seeing whether that cost can be recovered.

That takes me on to another part of the hon. Gentleman’s speech that was particularly striking, about the celebrity endorsements in this case. It is not for me to make policy announcements in an Adjournment debate, nor would I want to in the case of celebrity endorsements, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that people should think carefully about how they endorse cosmetic surgery. It is a serious intervention and if anyone seeks to glamorise something to which careful thought should be given, people and the organisations using those endorsements should treat them with extreme care.

I would point the organisation that the hon. Gentleman is dealing with and everyone else towards the code of conduct in advertising, the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, which drew up guidance in October 2013, especially on protecting children and young people. I think it would be appropriate to make sure the organisation of which he speaks is complying with the spirit as well as the letter of that guidance, and if not I will certainly help him to ask whether anything more can be done on that.

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of counselling. Any reputable organisation should seek to ensure that people undertake procedures only when they need to do so and have been properly counselled on the consequences of their actions so that they can make an informed decision. The Government believe that that should happen in every case for cosmetic surgery. There should be an informed decision, taken with serious thought.

Finally, on the issues to do with The Hospital Group the hon. Gentleman raised, I cannot speak without further advice, but there clearly seem to be questions about trading standards, which he raised. I hope that I and my officials will be able to meet him to look carefully at this case, to make sure if The Hospital Group is misrepresenting its position apropos its surgeons and those it seeks to represent, it is not besmirching an industry which more widely does take its duties and the way it represents itself seriously.

The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has raised a topical issue of which we are all aware. Many people have had botched operations. Has the Minister’s Department been able to quantify how many? Optimax was one of the groups involved with a lot of the operations for laser surgery. People thought that was safe, but it was obviously not safe for all. Has the Department been able to quantify the numbers and therefore take action?

I am afraid I do not have an answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I will make sure we write to him if such figures exist, although I suspect they may not. Let me inquire, and then I shall reply to his question.

Let me turn to the broader policy issues to which the hon. Member for North Durham referred. He referred to Sir Bruce Keogh’s review. It began in January 2012 after the PIP breast implant scandal. It covered the rapidly growing non-surgical cosmetic market. He published that review in 2013 and it highlighted the rapid growth of cosmetic interventions, and suggested safeguards among 40 recommendations to protect patients. The aim of those was to improve how surgical and non-surgical interventions were done, to set standards for training practitioners and surgeons and for how supervision from regulated healthcare professionals can support self-regulation of the industry, and to improve the quality of the information clients have to ensure they are able to make informed decisions about their treatment. The Government published their response in 2014.

By the time of the publication the Government had already started work on a number of the recommendations. To address the issue of proper training for cosmetic practitioners, the Royal College of Surgeons set up an inter- specialty committee with representation from the relevant specialty associations and professional organisations including plastic surgery, ear nose and throat, oral and maxillofacial surgery, breast surgery, urology, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, the General Medical Council and the Care Quality Commission. The committee also includes patient and provider representation, and representatives from the devolved Administrations are invited as observers.

The committee established three sub-groups which are taking forward the work to implement the recommendations. They cover standards for training and certification, clinical quality and outcomes, and patient information. The committee is also in the process of developing an overarching framework for certification to improve the safety and delivery of cosmetic surgery. Individuals performing cosmetic surgery will be expected to practise within their field of specialty training. The framework for certification takes into account equivalence for non-UK-based surgeons.

I thank the Minister for giving way, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for bringing this important debate to the Chamber. PIP has been mentioned, along with the regulations that are in place in this country. I want to ask how we need to work with our European neighbours to ensure that we get the regulation right. We have heard about doctors coming from Italy to practise in this country, for example, and we know how PIP, which started in France, has impacted on patients in the UK. What work is the Minister doing to ensure that we co-operate across Europe to close any loopholes in this area?

The hon. Lady has touched on a complicated and diverse subject. I will happily talk to her when we have more time about what the Department is doing and what we are doing within the European Union to ensure the transferability of qualifications. A considerable amount of work is being done, and the GMC has tightened up a whole number of areas to ensure that we allow only the highest quality of practice in this country, while allowing people to travel through the European Union to practise using their qualifications.

I want to turn now to training for non-surgical interventions. We asked Health Education England to develop a new qualification framework for providers of non-surgical cosmetic interventions, and for those required to be responsible prescribers, that could apply to all practitioners regardless of previous training and professional background. Health Education England has now completed its review of the qualification requirements and will publish its recommendations shortly.

The issue of breast implants initiated the review by Sir Bruce Keogh. The review placed particular importance on systems that can precisely identify the complete cohort of patients in which a specific implant has been used. It recognised that being able to monitor the device implementation and performance for clinical outcomes and tracing of patients at risk of device failure was an important safety issue. There has been a range of responses, involving the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the Health and Social Care Information Centre, the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, and a whole series of recommendations has been enacted following the review.

Turning to legislation, we know that there are examples of high-quality surgical and non-surgical intervention, as I am sure the hon. Member for North Durham would agree, and it is those standards that we must make universal. I am aware of the arguments in favour of legislation as a way of reaching those standards—for example, through the statutory regulation of the non-surgical sector or new powers for the GMC. However, it does not follow that we must depend on legislation alone to meet the fundamental objectives of the Keogh review. Much has been achieved already and there is much more to do.

I know that the hon. Gentleman understands the pressure of competing priorities on parliamentary time. The calendar for legislation is full at the moment, as he knows, but we now have an opportunity to review and monitor the impact of non-legislative action before confirming whether new legislation would add significant value to safeguards for people choosing cosmetic procedures. We will continue to be advised on that by Sir Bruce and others as the safeguarding framework continues to develop. I can give the hon. Gentleman a personal assurance that I will ensure that the review of the non-legislative remedies is thorough, and that if it is found wanting, we will immediately look again at the subject with a view to taking further action.

We are grateful for the support of the Royal College of Surgeons and its partners and for the extremely thorough work that they have done so far. We are also grateful to the General Medical Council and the Care Quality Commission. In the light of the continuing work that I have outlined, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we are in a far better position now than we were before Sir Bruce’s review to help to protect the public and ensure proper training and oversight of non-surgical as well as surgical cosmetic interventions.

On the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman raised about his constituent, I commit to returning to him with an answer on the doctor he mentioned and the insurance that he will be required to have. I will also give him a specific answer on the cost to the NHS and any work that we might do on cost recovery, and on the specific guidance on the advertising of surgical procedures. I hope also to be able to get to the bottom of the nature of the sales techniques and the claims made by the hospital that he has mentioned, to ensure that it is practising in accordance with the standards that would be expected of a decent, reasonable organisation doing what it purports to do. I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for bringing this case to the Government’s attention.

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).