Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Win for patient safety with ‘surgeon’ now a protected title
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Win for patient safety with ‘surgeon’ now a protected title

13 Sep 2023

Only specialist surgeons will be able to call themselves ‘surgeon’ under new legislation to restrict the use of the title by registered medical practitioners.  
Key points
  • New law restricting the use of the title ‘surgeon’ to specialist surgeons has passed parliament.
  • The move supports Ahpra and the Medical Board of Australia’s work to clean up the cosmetic surgery industry with only specialist doctors now able to call themselves a ‘cosmetic surgeon.’
  • Doctors who continue to use the title illegally may face criminal and/or regulatory action. 

The change means that a medical practitioner will only be able to use the title ‘surgeon’ if they are registered in one of the recognised specialties of surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology or ophthalmology.

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Surgeons) Amendment Bill, just passed in the Queensland Parliament, legally protects the title ‘surgeon' from being used by any doctor without the necessary qualifications and training. Before this, any registered medical practitioner could call themselves a ‘surgeon’, even if they were not registered in a surgical speciality or had not completed specialist training in surgery. 

It's a move welcomed by the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra). This key reform supports the regulator’s suite of changes to clean up the cosmetic surgery industry in Australia and better protects patients considering cosmetic surgery.

‘This is good for patient safety and what patients asked for. It will make sure that when a medical practitioner uses the word surgeon, it means something very specific about their skills and qualifications,’ Dr Anne Tonkin AO, Chair of the Medical Board of Australia, said. 

‘This is a win for the public and will remove a lot of confusion when patients are making choices about cosmetic surgery,’ Ahpra CEO, Martin Fletcher, said. 

This reform complements the Medical Board’s introduction of an endorsement for cosmetic surgery. Both will help patients understand who is qualified and equip them to make informed choices.

Patients can also check the Register of practitioners to find out more about a surgeon’s qualifications and training and if they have any restrictions on their practice.  

What does this mean for medical practitioners?

Protecting the title ‘surgeon’ limits what doctors can call themselves and gives a clear and agreed meaning to the word ‘surgeon’, whether it is used alone or in combination with other words such as cosmetic surgeon or aesthetic surgeon.

What could happen to doctors who keep using the protected title?

Doctors who can no longer use the protected title must stop using it. This includes on all advertising and in referring to themselves generally. 

Doctors who fail to stop using the newly protected title ‘surgeon’ after they have been warned not to, could face criminal prosecution by Ahpra. The Board may also take disciplinary action, which could be in addition to or instead of prosecution. 

Misuse of the newly protected title is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum fine of $60,000 or three years’ imprisonment, or both.

About the cosmetic surgery reforms

Protecting the title ‘surgeon’ is one part of a package of cosmetic surgery reforms designed to clean up the cosmetic surgery industry, raise standards and better protect patients.

Along with an endorsement for cosmetic surgery, it will:

  • enable patients to make informed choices
  • make it clear on the public register if a doctor has met high standards – either as a surgeon with specialist registration, through an endorsement for cosmetic surgery, or both.

Background to the Bill

The Queensland Parliament is the host jurisdiction for the National Law. This means now that the Amendment Bill has been passed in Queensland Parliament the changes will automatically apply in most states and territories after assent. We anticipate Western Australia Parliament will introduce a corresponding Amendment Bill into their Parliament. South Australia and New South Wales will make a regulation to confirm application of the amendments in their states.

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Page reviewed 13/09/2023