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Do you need a GP referral for cosmetic surgery in Australia?

Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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Catherine Henry Lawyers - Cosmetic Surgery & Health Law

Do you need a GP referral for cosmetic surgery in Australia?

July 2023 legislative changes for cosmetic surgery

People seeking certain types of cosmetic surgery in Australia must now have a referral from an Australian registered general practitioner (GP) or non-cosmetic medical specialist under new guidelines from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the Medical Board of Australia. The AHPRA cosmetic guidelines came into effect on July 1, 2023.

The guidelines require that the referring GP and the cosmetic practitioner are independent of one another. This means they:

  • do not practise in the same clinic location or for the same business
  • do not have a financial relationship or an arrangement where the cosmetic practitioner directs their patients to a specific GP or business to get a referral for their cosmetic surgery
  • are not close relatives.

Which cosmetic surgery and procedures require a GP referral?

In Australia, you only need a GP referral if you are having cosmetic surgery. You do not need a referral for non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

The requirement for a cosmetic surgery referral is designed to make sure patients discuss their decision to have cosmetic surgery with a medical practitioner who is independent of the cosmetic practitioner. This helps patients to be aware of the risks and benefits of the procedure. However, the cosmetic practitioner must also explain the risks of the procedure and obtain informed consent from the patient.

The Medical Board expects that cosmetic surgery practitioners screen and document their patients for body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). The GP referral is also an opportunity for the GP or non-cosmetic medical specialist to assess the patient’s mental health and fitness for surgery. The Board expects that if a GP determines the patient has BDD or any other condition that makes them unsuitable for cosmetic surgery, the GP should not provide a referral for cosmetic surgery.

Medically necessary plastic surgery

Medically necessary plastic surgery should be performed by plastic surgeons, not cosmetic surgeons. Plastic surgeons undergo extensive surgical training and supervision.

Until recently, doctors could use the title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ without having completed specialist training. Legislation passed on 13 September 2023 now confines the use of the title to registered practitioners with recognised specialist training. New South Wales and South Australia are in the final stages of enforcing this change, which will ensure consistent national regulations. This will help patients better understand a practitioners’ level of skills and qualifications so they can make an informed decision. These guidelines do not relate to medically necessary plastic surgery because there is already greater regulation of plastic surgery and referral systems in place.

Other cosmetic surgery procedures

These AHPRA cosmetic surgery guidelines apply to cosmetic surgery such as breast augmentation, abdominoplasty, rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty, surgical facelifts, cosmetic genital surgery, liposuction and fat transfer.

The guidelines do not cover cosmetic procedures. A GP referral is not required for procedures such as cosmetic injectables, laser or thread lifts.

Can a cosmetic practitioner refer a patient to another cosmetic practitioner for surgery?

No. Under the new guidelines, cosmetic practitioners cannot provide the required referral to another cosmetic practitioner. The referral must come from an Australian registered general practitioner or other non-cosmetic specialist. A cosmetic practitioner can refer to another cosmetic practitioner only if the patient already has a referral from a GP or non-cosmetic medical specialist.

A GP who also provides non-surgical cosmetic procedures cannot refer a patient for cosmetic surgery.

Is the appointment for a GP referral for cosmetic surgery covered by Medicare?

Cosmetic surgery and cosmetic procedures are not covered by Medicare. The Medical Board’s advice from Medicare is that a GP consult to assess a patient’s physical and mental health and help them to decide whether to provide a referral would most likely be payable under Medicare, provided the requirements of a relevant item number are met.

What happens if I am treated for cosmetic surgery without a GP referral?

If you have cosmetic surgery without a GP referral, your cosmetic practitioner is breaking the guidelines set by AHPRA and the Australian Medical Board. The guidelines clearly state that a cosmetic practitioner should not proceed with a consultation for cosmetic surgery if the patient does not have a GP referral.

The Medical Board advises cosmetic surgery practitioners to inform all patients of the requirement for a GP referral specifically for cosmetic surgery when they make an appointment.

The role of a lawyer in surgical negligence disputes

If something goes wrong with your cosmetic surgery or cosmetic procedure – or any other surgery – that is the responsibility of the practitioner, not the referring GP. In NSW, you can make a complaint to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.

If you are injured due to the health care facility you may also be able to seek compensation or redress for lost income, expenses and psychological trauma. An experienced health lawyer can help you to make a complaint or to make a case for surgical negligence.

Looking for an experienced surgical negligence lawyer? Contact Catherine Henry Lawyers

Our health and medical negligence lawyers have extensive experience in all types of surgical negligence cases involving health services, public and private hospitals, doctors, surgeons, GPs, nurses, and other health professionals.

Our firm has been recommended in the prestigious Doyles Guide list of medical negligence lawyers for seven years running.

As well as our extensive experience, we enlist the expertise of a practicing clinical nurse consultant to provide invaluable guidance to our legal team. This allows us to ask the right questions and get to the bottom of issues more quickly. Most importantly, we care, we understand your situation, and we support you through the whole process. To find out how we can help you, call 1800 874 949 or complete the contact form below.

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