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Tattooing (Insurance Cover)

Volume 210: debated on Tuesday 30 June 1992

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3.41 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require that a person shall be insured against the cost of tattoo removal when purchasing the services of a commercial tattooist.
You will recall, Madam Speaker, that before the election there was a considerable hue and cry about long-term waiting lists in the health service. I decided to investigate the list in my constituency, Billericay, where we have an excellent burns and plastic surgery unit. I found, to my great surprise, that a remarkably large number of the people who were waiting for two years were waiting to have tattoos removed. There were over 100 cases of that type, and they represented almost 10 per cent. of the long-term waiting list.

I have subsequently been told by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) that his hospital, Stoke Mandeville, has a similar experience. I made inquiries in other hospitals, including the Brighton hospital, where there are specialists in this work, and they too had close on 100 people waiting to have tattoos removed. If this is added up throughout the country, one finds that a very large number of people on long-term waiting lists are there because they very much regret having been tattooed in the first place.

Mr. Patrick Hall-Smith, a specialist at the Brighton hospital, points out that taking off a tattoo can be almost as traumatic as having it put on. It causes great psychological distress and, in addition to the cost, can cause a long-term problem for the individual concerned.

You will be surprised to learn, Madam Speaker, that it would cost you £25 to have "I love Teresa" tattooed on your arm; but it will surprise you even more to learn that it would cost £2,500 to have that tattoo removed under the health service. That is money which could be better spent on people who are ill, and surely that is what the health service is for. I am therefore calling for people who choose to have themselves tattooed to have first to think carefully about it and to take out an insurance policy.

Tattooing is of course extremely common in the Navy. It is quite common for a jolly sailor to roll out of the Crown and Anchor with a girl on his arm, stagger across to the tattooist and, because he does not have to sign anything, have "Sharon" tattooed on his chest before he realises what he is doing. But he may wake up in the morning to find that in fact it is Tracey he loves. He is now burdened with something that he wishes to goodness he had never had done. I am told that such sailors, when they leave the Navy, are often discriminated against when they are looking for jobs, particularly if their tattoos are in a place where they can easily be seen. This is especially so when they are on the face, where, I am given to understand, many people have tattoos.

The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 made it necessary for tattooists to register, although apparently very few of them do so. It also made it necessary for people to be over the age of 18 before they could be tattooed. However, the journal of the British Medical Association records that the majority of tattoos are carried out on people under the age of 18, and often as young as 13.

The removal of these tattoos requires the use of acid, burning, abrasion, lasers or even skin grafts, and can take place over a long period—so long, indeed, that the individual often gives up, having wasted the valuable time of a plastic surgeon who could be doing something a lot more useful. Furthermore, the treatment leaves the skin looking like a patchwork quilt. There is no such thing as invisible mending when it comes to the removal of tattoos.

Tattooing has currently become very fashionable. Many prominent people in the pop world are displaying tattoos. There is a young lady called Paula Yates who apparently has a tattoo which she regularly exhibits on television. I think that it is on her arm. Surprisingly enough, Eddie Grundy of "The Archers" was recently tattooed, and he is busy persuading the young people of Ambridge to follow his example. I hate to think what the plastic surgery bills will be in Ambridge in the near future.

Whole magazines are devoted to the apparently fashionable art of tattooing, but no one tells the people who undergo what is in a way enforced defilement of their skin what it will cost in pain, suffering, misery and lost jobs if they change their minds.

My Bill does not seek to prohibit people being tattooed. I would be the last one to stop them. I am on record as saying that everyone should be allowed to go to hell in their own way—I just do not think that we ought to pay for the journey.

My Bill would ensure that, before people are tattooed, they would obtain insurance, and would give their consent in writing, to absolve the tattooist of any responsibility. It is wholly wrong that the health service should be derided for keeping people waiting a long time for treatment, when many of those concerned are in need not of a genuine operation but only of cosmetic surgery.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Teresa Gorman, Mr. Christopher Gill, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Gyles Brandreth, Mr. Eric Pickles, Dr. Robert Spink, Mr. Terry Dicks, Dr. Liam Fox, and Mr. David Lidington.

Tattooing (Insurance Cover)

Mrs. Teresa Gorman accordingly presented a Bill to require that a person shall be insured against the cost of tattoo removal when purchasing the services of a commercial tattooist; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 10 July and to be printed. [Bill 49.]