Social media is allowing women to cheat mental health screening tests designed to prevent them undergoing needless cosmetic procedures, NHS leaders have warned.
Tips on how to “game” questionnaires intended to block those suffering with disorders like body dysmorphia from procedures such as botox and fillers are increasingly being shared on Facebook and other platforms, officials say.
NHS England last night called on providers to adopt more stringent tests to weed out customers for whom cosmetic procedures which might exacerbate mental health problems.
It followed an announcement by Superdrug, the first major high street retailer to offer in-store cosmetic services, that the chain would strengthen its screening test after pressure from health chiefs.
Last August the business began offering “crow’s feet” botox treatment, lip fillers and and facial contouring for anyone aged 25 or over from £99, roughly a third the price of private clinics.
The move stoked fears the service would make it too easy for those with body image issues to access potentially damaging treatments.
Superdrug said it had always carried out a “full medical consultation” with a nurse practitioner, but that they have now adopted standards recognised by the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation (BDDF).
However, Claire Murdoch, director of mental health at NHS England, said: “Word spreads quickly in online communities how to get around this sort of test, with social media often used to share tips between people who want treatment but for whom it’s inappropriate.
“To be truly effective, cosmetic treatment providers have to understand and guard against the impact that social media platforms can have in undermining protections like this.”
The comments follow an intervention last year by Simon Stevens, who runs the NHS, saying that social media companies have duty to cut down on the drivers of mental ill health.
Questions in the BBDF-approved screening test include asking how often a person checks their appearance in the mirror, and the extent to which they feel ugly.
Superdrug says that if it suspects a customer may have body dysmorphia issues they will refer them to GP and impose a 14-day cooling off period.
NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Pressures on young people’s mental health are greater than they ever have been, with families and the health service too often left to pick up the pieces.
“The lack of tough checks on cosmetic surgery procedures means that the public is dependent on businesses taking voluntary steps to get their house in order, leaving people avoidably exposed to dangerous practices.
Meanwhile Kitty Wallace, a trustee at the BDDF, said: “Studies show that fewer than 10 per cent of patients with BDD are satisfied with the results of cosmetic procedures.
“It is important that these measures are in place to protect such individuals from potentially damaging and un-necessary procedures.”