COVID-19: Cosmetic treatments like Botox may resume under level 3, doctor reveals guidelines include patients must be double-vaccinated

An Auckland cosmetic doctor has defended the move to reintroduce treatments like Botox under COVID-19 alert level 3 restrictions, saying the elective nature of the procedure allows them to install the most stringent safety precautions - including requiring a double vaccinated status for all clients. 

While Auckland has been bound by weeks of stringent lockdown regulations, non-urgent healthcare providers like physios, chiropractors and dentists have pushed pause on appointments, as well as beauty practitioners like hairdressers, facialists and nail technicians. 

On Friday, a relaxing of the alert level 3 rules meant face-to-face care was once again possible from many relieved specialists including chiropractors, occupational therapists, physios, psychologists, podiatrists, optometrists and dental therapists.    

But from next week, this may also include providers of cosmetic treatments like dermal fillers and popular anti-wrinkle treatment Botox.

One medical professional contacted Newshub to raise concerns the New Zealand Society for Cosmetic Medicine (NZSCM) is telling members that they can start performing Botox treatments from Tuesday onwards. 

The medical professional, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed the governing group was attempting to circumvent restrictions by passing off the aesthetic treatment as being beneficial for "mental health". 

"The reason that they are giving the members for being able to resume this service is because of the mental wellbeing benefits to the patient," they told Newshub.

But the medical professional doubts any of the patients will be seeking Botox for its "loose claims" of benefiting mental "wellbeing".

"Clients will be seeking treatment for aesthetic reasons," they wrote. 

"Furthermore, very few - if any - of the members of NZSCM would have previously offered Botox treatments for the reason of mental wellbeing. 

"In fact, if you were to review their individual websites, you will find that none of them promote 'mental wellbeing' as treatment they offer by administering anti-wrinkle treatments such as Botox."

"We've gone above and beyond."

However cosmetic doctor and NZSCM Executive and Censor Sarah Hart told Newshub that the claim they've told practitioners to begin from Tuesday "isn't quite accurate", and instead have developed a 'COVID-safe plan' they've put to the Ministry of Health. 

Dr Hart said she and her colleagues were making "safety and caution" a top priority in preparing to resume practices, insisting they have "gone above and beyond Ministry of Health recommendations". 

"Our guidelines were developed by our COVID Response Committee consisting of two primary care physicians, an anaesthetist, an ophthalmologist, and an emergency medicine specialist who have firsthand experience delivering healthcare during the delta outbreak, as have many of our members," she explained. 

"They are based on Ministry of Health advice, DHB policy and the latest available evidence to ensure the risk of transmission is minimised." 

In the proposed set of guidelines for their members, doctors issuing such cosmetic treatments would be required to wear N95 respirators instead of standard surgical masks, as well as eye protection. All appointments would be required to be 15 minutes or less, and patients would be required to wear masks the whole time. 

Perhaps most importantly, both practitioners and clients would be required to be double-vaccinated - a mandate they could put in place due to their position as practitioners of an elective procedure. 

"We are delighted to see DHBs have resumed elective procedures, cosmetic surgery has recommenced and dentists and allied health practitioners have returned to deliver healthcare," Dr Hart said. 

"Our guidelines are more conservative than those in place for the above scenarios, which we believe is appropriate."

She added many of the treatments listed above, including cosmetic surgery, would take longer than 15 minutes and may require intubation or general aesthetic, therefore risking a more significant risk of transmission.

In comparison, the NZSCM is proposing only minor procedures which can be performed in less than 15 minutes and without removing the patient's mask. 

Dr Hart did note that unlike services such as physio and dentistry where a pain element may make the appointments more 'urgent', procedures like Botox were resuming for aesthetic reasons. 

"It's definitely a nice thing - it's a permitted activity, rather than an essential one," she admitted. 

"Many people find these treatments give them a boost in confidence and there is research to show treatment to the frown area can improve mood."

But Dr Hart added she wouldn't use those studies as a "reason to be in the essential framework".

"But that's why we're taking so many precautions, and if the Ministry of Health says no, we'll say 'no, sorry, we can't open'." 

Dr Hart says it's up to members of the NZSCM whether they open before they receive the go-ahead from the Ministry of Health, but she personally won't be practising until that approval is given. 

However she did add that as a "special interest group" they shared their guidelines with the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners, "which described them as well thought through and advised they intend to share them with our GP colleagues".