Natalie credits her work for Healthcare Improvement Scotland, the regulator of private healthcare clinics, with shielding her from getting cosmetic treatments that, while cheap, were provided by people whose knowledge and training was unclear. She is now on a mission to help others understand what is and isn’t safe when it comes to private healthcare.

Understanding what is, and isn’t, safe

All of us have heard stories of cosmetic procedures gone horribly wrong – lip fillers that look awful, face muscles that get affected if an injection wasn’t done properly. But this didn’t put me off when I first looked into getting a cosmetic procedure done. Back then, I was influenced by two factors – the price and how close the provider was to where I live in West Lothian. This attitude quickly changed when I began my role with Healthcare Improvement Scotland within the team responsible for regulating private healthcare (clinics, hospitals and hospices that are not part of the NHS). Now, the most important factor in my decision-making is whether the clinic is registered with us, which means that their staff will be appropriately qualified and the clinic inspected and their reports published online.

I now have my aesthetic work done at a registered clinic in Glasgow. It is vital that clinics are regulated to ensure that they meet the standards of care set out in Scotland.

Regulated and safe, vs unregulated and careless

It was during my first my first appointment with my current clinic – which was a consultation only – that I noticed the stark difference between regulated and unregulated clinics In the course of the appointment, I felt that not only was I given great advice about what would work for me specifically, but that the clinicians wanted to make sure that I was getting the procedures for the right reasons. I felt that they were subtly checking to see if I was doing this for myself, that I understood what the process entailed and that I wasn’t affected by body dysmorphia. This was very different from the non-regulated clinics that I attend in the past, where I felt that the practitioners were only interested in taking my money and that frequently, they would have more than one patient in at the same time, which meant I didn’t receive their undivided attention, which naturally increased the scope for error.

Learning from experience

While I now have the assurance that I am in the hands of certified healthcare professionals, this is often not the case for many people. Since talking about my work to my friends, I have been approached by numerous people, asking me for advice about aesthetic procedures and specific clinics, to see if I knew about them and if they were registered with Healthcare Improvement Scotland. It highlighted to me just how important it is that young people – and all those considering cosmetic procedures – know what to look for in a clinic and how to guarantee that they will be safe and taken care of. For many of the people I have spoken to, the first step when it comes to researching a clinic for treatments is to check if they are registered with us. Everything else, like location and price, comes after.

There is of course still the risk that young people especially could be swayed by lower prices offered by unregistered clinics, or if they market their treatments in ‘bundles’. I always say that while the price might seem lower, the quality of care may be worse as well and should there be a medical emergency, many of the clinics that are not registered may not be able to help. Similarly, if something does go wrong, there is no one to complain or flag your concerns to, whereas for an clinics registered with Healthcare Improvement Scotland, not only do you have that safety net to fall back on, but you can actually check a clinic’s previous reports to see how well they did and if any concerns were raised during inspection or if any complaints have been investigated and upheld.

Getting a cosmetic treatment is a personal choice – everyone’s reasons are totally unique to them. What all people considering aesthetic work must do is prioritise their personal safety and wellbeing, and the best way to do this is in the hands of a trained and registered clinic.

Natalie Graham is 26 and an administrative officer with Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s independent healthcare team.

More information

Private healthcare: regulation, patient safety and the future The Healthcare Improvement Podcast

For more information on regulated clinics, and to view our register of regulated clinics, visit our website.