Liposuction doctors to review safety rules

SINGAPORE - Liposuction doctors will meet this week to discuss whether safety protocols need to be revised after a mother became the second patient in four years to die following the procedure.

Around 25 members of the Society of Aesthetic Medicine will gather to review the current processes in the wake of the tragedy.

Mother of two, Madam Mandy Yeung, 44, died last month after collapsing following a cosmetic procedure to remove fat from her abdomen and use it to make her thighs smoother. An inquiry into her death is ongoing.

The doctors attending this week's meeting belong to the society's liposuction peer review committee, which meets four to six times a year and does not include plastic surgeons. Its chairman, Dr David Loh, said most clinics would already have taken "every precaution" to prevent accidents.

The Health Ministry introduced licensing and safety requirements in 2008 and has since tightened them twice.

For instance, doctors can remove only one litre of fat each time. They also need to have extra staff to monitor the patient, and defibrillators at their clinics.

The Singapore Medical Council said it received only seven complaints linked to the procedure between 2008 and last year.

Liposuction practitioner Harold Ma, who runs a practice in East Coast, told The Straits Times the guidelines are already "adequate, robust and world-class".

"Unfortunately, any medical procedure which is more invasive carries with it certain risks," he said.

There are 38 general practitioners and 24 specialists, including plastic surgeons, accredited to perform liposuction in Singapore.

Plastic surgeon Woffles Wu said the regulations have made it harder for doctors to carry out their work. For instance, those who want to remove more than one litre of fat have to do so in a day surgery centre. This can drive up costs for the patient.

Dr Wu, who has previously said that only plastic surgeons should be allowed to carry out liposuction, doubts whether the additional rules have helped to improve patient safety.

"It's not about the procedure, but the training of the person," said the surgeon, who runs a practice at Camden Medical Centre. Dr Wu added that rules have yet to address this gap properly.

Health policy expert Jeremy Lim said it is near impossible to "regulate away risks in surgery".

"Well-constructed standards help to uplift the entire industry and protect patients' interests," said Dr Lim, who teaches health policy and management at National University of Singapore. "That said, one needs to be careful about not inadvertently creating excessive barriers."

The doctors said they have not been taking extra precautions in the wake of the recent death, as the guidelines contain comprehensive criteria for patient safety.

Dr Loh, who runs clinics in Orchard Road, said none of his patients has backed out, and new bookings have also been made. Similarly, Dr Ma said his clinic is getting "a good number" of inquiries on liposuction.

Even so, Dr Wu said the profession's image might have taken a hit. "Every time an incident like this happens, it's bad for the industry," he said. "People start to think that liposuction is dangerous. However, complications are largely avoidable."

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