GPs have been urged to be aware of the updated guidance, with medico-legal experts warning that a significant proportion of cosmetic cases in the past decade have related to work carried out in primary care.
The GMC published the guidance this week to clarify the ethical responsibilities of doctors carrying out cosmetic procedures and the standards they should work to.
It highlights the need for doctors carrying out cosmetic work to keep accurate records, act on patients' concerns and provide continuity of care, seek patients' consent and give them time to reflect on whether to undergo treatment.
Continuity of care
The advice follows a review of cosmetic surgery by NHS England medical director Professor Bruce Keogh, which reported in 2013.
The new guidance backs recommendations in the Keogh review for GPs to be notified when their patients undergo cosmetic procedures.
The guidance says: 'You should give patients written information that explains the intervention they have received in enough detail to enable another doctor to take over the patient’s care. This should include relevant information about the medicines or devices used.
'You should also send this information, with the patient’s consent, to their GP, and any other doctors treating them, if it is likely to affect their future healthcare. If the patient objects to the information being sent to their doctor, you must record this in their notes and you will be responsible for providing the patient’s follow-up care.'
It also makes clear that providers should discuss risks and benefits of procedures with patients' GPs in some cases.
Consult with GPs
'You must consider whether it is necessary to consult the patient’s GP to inform the discussion about benefits and risks,' the guidance says.
'If so, you must seek the patient’s permission and, if they refuse, discuss their reasons for doing so and encourage them to allow you to contact their GP. If the patient is determined not to involve their GP, you must record this in their notes and consider how this affects the balance of risk and benefit and whether you should go ahead with the intervention.'
In a statement on the GMC guidance, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said that 'almost 20%' of cosmetic intervention cases it had been notified about in the past decade related to non-surgical procedures, with 'a significant number of the enquiries from GPs'.
MDU medico-legal adviser Dr Nicola Lennard said: 'Doctors carrying out any procedure or treatment with the primary objective of changing an aspect of a patient’s physical appearance, need to be aware of and follow the new guidance.
'As explained in the guidance, getting the patients’ fully informed consent is key to avoiding misunderstandings. A robust consent process which ensures patients are given all the information they need about a procedure, including the risks, along with time to consider and change their mind, is important with any treatment, but particularly so with cosmetic treatments, where patients may have high, or even unrealistic expectations.'
GMC chairman Professor Terence Stephenson said: ‘Cosmetic interventions should not be entered into lightly or without serious considerations. Above all, patients considering whether to have such a procedure need honest and straightforward advice which allows them to understand the risks as well as the possible benefits.'