Labor releases draft Private Member’s Bill: Definition Of “Surgeon”


NSW Labor has released an exposure/consultation draft Private Member's Bill clarifying the definition of surgeon in NSW and responding to a loophole.

The bill comes in the wake of a number of high profile incidents - including an incident in late January where a woman was rushed to Westmead Hospital with cardiac arrest after a Parramatta cosmetic institute bungled a breast enhancement procedure. The person performing the procedure was not a surgeon, but he was legally able to describe himself as one.

Currently, practitioners have free rein to give themselves the title of surgeon, even though they may only have the most basic medical qualification - a Bachelor of Medicine.

The Health Practitioner Regulation (Adoption of National Law) Amendment (Unqualified Surgeons) Bill 2015 was released by Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord and Labor MP for Port Stephens Kate Washington, who is also a national lawyer specialising in medical matters.

During the March election, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons - particularly their cosmetic surgeon members - expressed concern about the lax rules. On April 22, the Royal Australasian College wrote to Mr Secord on the definition of surgeon.

Labor will send the draft bill to the various medical bodies for consideration and comment.

Under the draft exposure-consultation bill, only medical practitioners registered in the specialty of surgery after completing extra training in the surgical specialty of their choice will be permitted to use the title of “surgeon.”

This would prohibit medical practitioners who are not specialists from using the title of "cosmetic surgeon.” It would also ban podiatrists who are not surgeons calling themselves "podiatric surgeons.”

However, dentists will continue to be allowed to call themselves "dental surgeons", which is standard practice in their profession. There is an exemption in the Bill for dentists.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons states: "surgeons are doctors who have completed extra training in the surgical specialty of their choice.”

There are nine surgical specialties: Cardiothoracic Surgery; General Surgery; Neurosurgery; Orthopaedic Surgery; Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery; Paediatric Surgery; Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery; Urology and Vascular Surgery.

Penalties for practices would remain with the current regulatory and medical bodies.

In May, the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons launched a public awareness campaign, "Think over before You Makeover," urging Australians to check the person performing their procedure is properly qualified.

Mr Secord and Ms Washington also expressed their support for a United Kingdom-style cooling off period for elective cosmetic surgery, such as face lifts, rhinoplasty and breast augmentation.

The Medical Board of Australia recently released a consultation paper that canvassed inclusion of a seven day or three month cooling-off period for surgical procedures depending on the age of the patient, and mandatory referral for psychological assessment for all patients under 18 years.

Shadow Minister for Health Walt Secord said:

"I acknowledge this is a complex area so we are releasing an exposure-consultation draft bill for comment before we introduce the Bill into Parliament for debate. We want to make sure there are no unintended consequences of the legislation, that it achieves its aim of protecting the community."

"We are taking a bipartisan approach on the matter. If the Liberal-National Government wishes to co-opt the Bill and make further refinements, we would welcome that. All contributions to the discussion should be considered."

“While patients recognise that all surgery carries risks, medical mistakes last a lifetime."

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said:

"It is unreasonable to expect an ordinary NSW citizen to know or understand the levels of training and accreditation required for a surgeon. That is why the definition of ‘surgeon’ is so important."

“There is a big difference between a doctor who is qualified as a surgeon than one who is a GP; the difference equates to about seven years in study and training.

“Patients assume that someone who holds themselves out as a surgeon has that additional training.

“This draft bill brings the law back into line with patient expectations.”

Click here to view the draft bill.