March 20, 2008
Ministry wants doctors to stop 'aesthetic' treatments
It will act against those who persist with unproven beauty treatments
By Salma Khalik
THE Health Ministry has decided to put a stop to doctors offering patients a range of controversial, unproven beauty treatments.
Banning these treatments threatens to wipe out millions of dollars in business for countless doctors engaged in the lucrative 'aesthetic medicine' scene.
Dr Tan Chor Hiang, the ministry's head of regulations, told The Straits Times last night that they will be advised to 'stop these practices immediately'.
'Recalcitrant doctors will be referred to the Singapore Medical Council,' she warned. The profession's watchdog is already investigating the aesthetic medicine practices of six doctors, including a specialist.
The ministry has been concerned about the booming aesthetic medicine market, estimated to be worth $200 million a year.
Over 1,000 general practitioners (GPs) and specialists have taken to offering a wide range of unproven treatments - everything from fat-busting injections and skin treatments to remove flaws or 'whiten' the complexion, to applications of growth hormones or stem cells for a more youthful appearance.
'This is not medicine,' Dr Tan said. 'Such services should never be offered on the pretext that they are medical in nature and are medically beneficial.'
The ministry began cracking down on such practices from September last year, telling about 20 of the bigger operators to stop.
Prominent plastic surgeon Woffles Wu and anaesthetist Christine Cheng were among those targeted. They complied immediately.
Dr Cheng was unhappy to have been singled out, and asked why the ministry did not inform all doctors.
The ministry explained that it did not realise earlier how widespread aesthetic medicine had become.
'Doctors are also advertising these services more aggressively,' Dr Tan said.
An online check showed close to 30 clinics still promoting the treatments, including mesotherapy which involves multiple injections of drugs to dissolve fat. This treatment is not allowed in some countries.
Madam Halimah Yacob, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, welcomed the ministry's ban, saying people trust doctors to provide approved and safe procedures.
But she wanted more action to regulate such treatments 'or they may end up in unauthorised beauty salons which could be worse'.
Dr Tan said the ministry's main concern is 'doctors performing unsubstantiated procedures, being unethical and subjecting patients to unacceptable health risks'.
'Without having proper scientific evidence, it is not known whether these practices can cause harm in the medium or long term,' she said.
The ministry is in talks with the Academy of Medicine and the College of Family Physicians to draw up proper procedures and the minimum training doctors need before offering them.
'Once these standards are ready, they can be used for regulating the practice of such procedures,' she said.
Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings.
I can hear the collective flush of money going down the toilet after reading this today. Many a GP will feel utterly depressed, I think, seeing their profit churning procedures "banned".
My question is: What about TCM? It even has its own regulatory branch within MOH. Using the same words as the ministry's head of regulations: 'Without having proper scientific evidence, it is not known whether these practices can cause harm in the medium or long term'.
Why the discrepancy? Why is it OK for this type of non-evidence based "medicine" to be practised & not another?
Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support MOH's efforts to clamp down on unproven procedures being used on patients. But what I don't appreciate is the double standards.