Any way you slice it, it’s time cosmetic surgery clinics became registered

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The number of people choosing to have cosmetic procedures is increasing. More than 50,000 people in the UK opted for these procedures last year, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.

There are many reputable clinics and practitioners operating across Scotland. However, like any sector or industry, there exists some that do not maintain the highest of standards and this remains one of the least regulated areas of healthcare.

Claire Sweeney, Interim Director of Quality Assurance for Healthcare Improvement Scotland

Claire Sweeney, Interim Director of Quality Assurance for Healthcare Improvement Scotland

That is why the new registration system for independent clinics that came into force in Scotland this year is extremely important. This system is a milestone for the industry, which will benefit practitioners and patients alike.

This legislation came about following a number of highly publicised incidents, including the Poly Implant Prostheses (PIP) breast implants recall. Due to concerns about patient safety in cosmetic surgery and treatments, the Chief Medical Officer in Scotland requested an expert group to make recommendations to the Scottish Government on the regulation and provision of these procedures.

This group recommended that Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) began to regulate independent 

Although cosmetic procedures have been the driver for this legislation, it affects all providers of independent clinics.

The law requires all independent clinics to be registered with HIS by 1 April this year. An independent clinic is where registered doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives and dental care professionals are providing services which are not part of a hospital.

Although registration is a legal requirement, it brings clear benefits for both the independent clinics and their customers by creating a system of quality assurance that instils real consumer confidence in the industry.

This system will help improve safety for those people who opt for these procedures and ensure that the clinics continue to improve the services that they provide. The clinics which are on the register will be able to demonstrate to their patients and the public that they operate to the highest professional standards. They will also be displaying an added commitment to safety and quality improvement. This in turn offers extra reassurance for patients and the public that the clinics are independently regulated and inspected.

Once a service is registered, it will be subject to regular inspections. A report of each inspection will be published so the public can see how a clinic is performing. The service will be graded on the quality of care, environment, staffing, management and information. We can take enforcement action if services do not comply with the requirements of the law.

Members of the public who are unhappy with the services they have received from a registered independent clinic can complain to HIS.

Registration opened on 1 April 2016 and we are delighted that since then more than half of the estimated 500 independent clinics in Scotland which must register with us are completing their applications.

In November 2016, Dermal Clinic in Edinburgh became the first service to have successfully registered.

Its founding director, Jackie Partridge, represents the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses on the Healthcare Improvement Scotland Independent Healthcare Programme Board. This group, which includes stakeholder representatives from across the independent clinics sector, is overseeing the management and implementation of regulation in the clinics sector. The membership list for our Programme Board can be found on our website.

We look forward to registering many more clinics between now and the end of March 2017. However, the providers of independent clinics that choose not to register with HIS will be in breach of the legislation.

Operating an unregistered independent clinic after 1 April 2017 will be an offence and we will report providers who are not registered by this date to the Procurator Fiscal service for prosecution.

In addition, the penalty for operating an unregistered clinic is a fine of up to £5,000 and/or up to three months’ imprisonment.

The number of clinics coming forward for registrations is very encouraging. However, we still have some way to go to make sure that the increasing number of people who are opting to use independent clinics can have complete confidence that the industry is fully regulated and safe.

If you would like to find out more about registration, please call the Independent Healthcare Enquiry Line on 0131-623 4342, e-mail or visit

Claire Sweeney, Interim Director of Quality Assurance for Healthcare Improvement Scotland.