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NHS: Tattoo Removal

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What was the cost of tattoo removal to the National Health Service in the last year for which figures are available; and on what grounds patients qualify for this treatment on the National Health Service.

My Lords, information on the cost of removing tattoos on the NHS is not collected centrally. Tattoo removal may be available on the NHS if a clinician considers that an individual patient’s health requires it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. I draw his attention to the Answer to a Written Question on 18 October, which said that 187,086 tattoos were removed in the past year. As most of that work will have been done by plastic surgery, consultants believe that it could represent a bill of either £37 million or as much as £300 million. Will the Minister comment on the fact that people pay privately to be tattooed and that the general attitude of dentists and those who work in the National Health Service is that you cannot have beauty treatment on the NHS, only clinically necessary treatment? Is there not a risk that a great deal of money is being spent here on something that should have a lower priority?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is of course right that cosmetic surgery and treatment is not available on the NHS. I am aware of the Written Answer that she mentioned, which was made on9 October in another place. I need to inform the House that I asked for the calculation that was used in that Answer to be rechecked by Department of Health statisticians for the purpose of this Answer. Shortly before coming into the Chamber, I was informed that the calculation was incorrect by a substantial margin owing to a significant number of errors in coding usage. I will of course ensure that the Written Answer is corrected, and I shall write to the noble Baroness, placing a copy in the Library—when we have double-checked the new calculation.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if the tattoo involves the whole of a patient’s back and it is a complete fox hunt scene with the fox going to ground, that could present certain major surgical problems? On the other hand, a patient came to me with a very offensive tattoo that he had had put on his hand while he was in prison. He was a reformed character and wanted it removed, but no one would do it, so I did it under local anaesthetic on a Saturday morning at no expense to the NHS.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will want to compliment the noble Lord on his humanitarian actions. We also suspect that, given his surgical skill, he would be able to cope with the fox-hunting dilemma that he described. I suspect that he and a number of his colleagues on the Benches opposite may well want to use the services offering laser treatment to remove tattoos saying “I love William” that have been replaced with others saying “I love Iain”, “I love Michael”, and so on.

My Lords, my noble friend indicated in his Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that statisticians had said that the Written Answer figures were incorrect. Did the statisticians indicate whether the figures were higher or lower?

My Lords, are the Government considering allowing patients to mix private payment for some parts of their care with standard NHS provision, thereby subsidising their own care, rather than, as currently happens, each episode of care being wholly funded by the NHS or wholly privately funded?

My Lords, although the noble Baroness’s query is a bit wide of the Question, I think she knows that, since the beginning of the NHS, it has been possible to have private pay beds in NHS hospitals available for people to receive private treatment, the profits going towards funding the NHS.

My Lords, is it not extraordinary that a Question should be answered in another place grossly wrongly and that that should emerge only when a Question is asked here that would be embarrassing to answer with the true costs? How can we give credence to any Answer about costs and statistics in the National Health Service when such things are allowed to go on unchecked until there is a further Question in this House?

My Lords, I seem to recall thatunder the previous Government and indeed under successive Governments there have been errors in answers given in the other place, which have been corrected and the record has been put straight. A certain amount of humbug is coming from thenoble Lord.

My Lords, the Minister referred in his initial Answer to the problems of coding. When a clinician decides on mental health grounds to go ahead with a procedure, does the money come from the mental health budget or is it under another budget, such as an ISTC?

My Lords, when a tattoo is removed for mental health reasons, I am not sure where that would figure in the accounts, but I shall make inquiries and write to the noble Baroness.