DUBAI // Health inspectors have closed several plastic surgery clinics and revoked doctors' licences as part of an aggressive effort to impose tougher regulations on the rapidly growing industry. The Department of Health and Medical Services (DOHMS), a branch of the new Dubai Health Authority (DHA), is paying close attention to more than 1,000 clinics that have opened in Dubai as the emirate continues to grow into a regional centre for cosmetic surgery. Some clinics are run by some of the world's top surgeons, but the department has warned that those that do not operate to a high standard will be investigated and shuttered.
Last year, DOHMS received 17 complaints from patients who were unhappy with the level of care they had received at cosmetic-surgery clinics in the emirate. A "handful" of clinics have already been closed, said Dr Ramadan Ibrahim Mohamed, the head of the department's clinical governance office. Officials also investigated cases where no complaints had been lodged by patients, he said. "Plastic surgery is big business and we are very aware that we need to be looking at the industry closely. We are tightening regulations and introducing new ones to make sure clinics and hospitals are operating at a high standard.
"We need the right people to be in the right places to protect patients' health. We will close surgeries down if we need to." Seven people are before the Dubai courts accused of negligence arising from the death in hospital of a 27-year-old Emirati woman after she underwent liposuction. "We found out about the case early in the morning and within hours we were looking into it," said Dr Mohamed. "We took the doctor's passport away from him and informed the public prosecution and the court."
Such cases, he said, "are rare but they do happen occasionally. The regulations are much better now and are getting tougher". Dr Mohamed also referred to a case last year in which a female patient ended up in a coma after having liposuction and a facelift. She is still receiving care in hospital and is on a life support machine. "This is a case we would investigate, with or without a complaint from the patient or their family," he said.
"We want to stop anything as severe as this happening. We are aware there are some problems in some clinics and that is why we have increased the number of inspections we are doing." He urged people to come forward if they had concerns about treatment they had received: "It acts as a good key performance indicator. Without these complaints it is very difficult to know who and where we should be targeting."
When the health authority receives a complaint it sets up an investigation committee with at least three members. The findings are given to the complainant, who can then decide whether to pursue the matter with the courts, which can grant compensation. The DHA has the right to issue warnings, impose fines, revoke licences and close clinics. Not all complaints reflect bad practice; there is a difference between malpractice and a patient's disappointed expectations. "It is a very grey area," he said Dr Mohamed said. "There is no typical case. Cosmetic plastic surgery complaints are not simply medical because it is not a curative treatment.
"It is a medical-legal issue. A patient may go into a clinic for liposuction and come out heavier than she wished. That is not negligence or malpractice." However, Dr Mohamed said, it was likely that cases of negligence or malpractice were under-reported. Many patients were afraid to report such cases for family or cultural reasons, or simply because they did not want anyone to know they had a surgical procedure, he said.
Dubai houses most of the UAE's cosmetic surgery clinics, but although more are setting up in Abu Dhabi the smaller number of clinics is reflected in the number of complaints. In 2007 the Health Authority Abu Dhabi received five complaints about surgical and non-surgical procedures. In 2006, it received only two. @Email:email@example.com