Thursday 21 March 2019

Taxpayers footing bill for removal of tattoos

Brian McDonald

TATTOO fans who get tired of their bodywork are now having the images removed at taxpayers' expense.

The costly procedure is not only being carried out free of charge to medical-card holders on public hospital waiting lists - if they get tired waiting, they can speed things up by applying to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

The NTPF, which was set up five years ago to reduce long-term waiting lists, has been accepting patients who want to have their tattoos removed privately.

Consultations with plastic surgeons are being arranged and surgery carried out to make the images disappear.

Once people have been more on a waiting list for an operation at a public hospital for more than three months, they can contact the NTPF to discuss options for treatment at a private hospital.

The NTPF then sources the treatment for qualifying patients in hospitals in Ireland, Northern Ireland and England. Such treatment is carried out at no charge to the patient.

More than 65,000 patients have been treated under the NTPF.

The most common procedures are to treat serious medical conditions.

They include coronary angiograms and hip and knee replacements.

In 2003, a medical card holder living in Dublin sought to have his tattoos removed and was referred to a plastic surgeon.

But because of the length of time he spent waiting for the appointment, he was accepted by the NTPF and referred to a plastic surgeon last year.

A standard tattoo may cost about €120, but its removal a total of €1,000

A consultation has now taken place and he is expected to have surgery soon.

A statement from the NTPF in response to questions said: "The NTPF arranges treatment for public patients who have been deemed by the public hospital system to require an operation and have been waiting longer than three months.

"Once a public patient meets these criteria, they are entitled to avail of the NTPF's services and the Fund does not discriminate between patients."

A spokesperson for the Health Service Executive said while tattoo removal was not normally available, it was ultimately "a clinical decision".

It is understood that such a decision could be taken on the basis of stress being caused by a tattoo in a relationship or if it was interfering with a person's ability to find suitable work.

Rising numbers of Irish people are getting tattoos during the summer months, at home or on holiday abroad, and in the greater Dublin area rising numbers of people are being tattooed at 'tattoo parties', in which tattoo providers offer cut-price images at a party.

But difficulties often arise at a later stage when the person needs to have the tattoo removed for personal or work-related reasons.

A standard tattoo may cost about €120, but its removal may cost a total of €1,000. And the procedure can be very painful, often taking a series of consultations with a medical specialist to have the image removed. In most cases a scar of some kind will remain.

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