Monday, October 23, 2006


The National Health Service spent tens of millions of pounds removing nearly 200,000 tattoos last year, according to figures released by the Department of Health last week. Rosie Winterton, the health minister, said in a Commons written answer that doctors had carried out the procedure, involving either skin grafts or lasers, on 187,063 tattoos. The figure has astonished MPs and consultants who fear NHS funds are being spent on trivial surgery while patients are denied potentially life-saving drugs and staff are laid off.

Even conservative estimates of the cost of removing a small tattoo under anaesthetic on the NHS put the bill for 2004-05 at 37 million pounds, but some consultants suggested a figure of 300m.

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “In a week when we’ve seen the NHS turning down Velcade (a cancer drug) it seems incredible that so much is being spent on tattoo removal.” Tattoos were once seen as a rebellious statement and the preserve of criminals, bikers and sailors, but they have become increasingly mainstream adornments. According to research carried out by the Discovery Channel earlier this year, 29% of Britons aged 25-34 have tattoos. They are popular among celebrities. David Beckham, the former England football captain, has tattoos bearing the names of his three children, while Robbie Williams, the pop singer, has a Maori pattern on his left arm, a Celtic cross on his right hip, a lion on his shoulder and his grandfather’s name on his arm. Eight years ago there were 300 tattoo parlours in Britain; today there are more than 1,500.

Because tattoos penetrate under the skin, removing them is expensive. The tattooed area must be cut out and skin grafted over the gap. Removing tattoos with skin grafts in the private sector can cost 1,000-2,500 pounds. Laser surgery costs from a minimum 200 to more than 2,500.

While having tattoos removed for “beautification” on the NHS is banned, surgery may be undertaken to “secure mental health wellbeing”. Earlier this year a health trust in Manchester agreed to spend 2,500 removing the tattoos of Tanya Bainbridge, a 57-year-old transsexual. The former merchant seaman, previously called Brian, claimed the large tattoos on her forearms were “not ladylike” and made her depressed.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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