Organisation warns of risk to public from blood-borne diseases through increase in popularity of tattooing and body piercing.

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The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) is calling on the government to address what it sees as a major public health risk posed by the dramatic increase in tattooing and body piercing.

It has warned that the inability of local authorities to insist that tattooists and piercers undergo accredited training is putting the public at risk.

Concerns centre on the ease with which skin infection and blood-borne diseases can be spread through poor practice. In particular diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis D and HIV can all be transmitted through unhygienic practice and an unclean working environment.

CIEH principal policy officer, Ian Gray, said: ‘We have been telling successive governments of the need for proper training and qualifications in this area for some 20 years. Putting things right now will require nothing less than a complete overhaul of the existing controls.’

Local authorities are currently using existing licensing and registration powers as well as adopted bylaws to stem the worst practices, but increasing numbers of tattooists and piercers, colloquially known as “scratchers”, are operating outside of these controls. In reality this can often mean that local authority officers can only take action once things go wrong.

The CIEH is calling for local authority regulators to be given better powers to stem poor practice and to make it a requirement that practitioners are given adequate training, particularly in infection control.

Ian Gray continued: ‘In terms of infection control there is little difference between a doctor and nurse carrying out a medical procedure and a tattooist or body piercer injecting or cutting your skin in order to insert dyes and body jewelry.”

The CIEH has criticised the government for missing a golden opportunity to introduce public health controls on non-surgical cosmetic procedures in its response to the Keogh Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions.

While the Department of Health has agreed to introduce controls on cosmetic procedures carried out by doctors, nurses and beauticians it has chosen to ignore the risks posed by tattooing and body piercing.

Ian Gray concluded: ‘Just like other cosmetic procedures, tattooing and body piercing can cause serious harm when they go wrong - not only infection, but disfigurement and even disablement. It is time for the government to accept that standards and accredited training are needed for all non-surgical cosmetic procedures.’

The CIEH has arranged an event in Parliament through its environmental health associated parliamentary group led by CIEH vice president Joan Walley on 4 March to lobby MPs on the risks to health posed by the existing lack of controls.

The CIEH has also responded to a Health Education England consultation on non-surgical interventions calling for the introduction of accredited training for tattooists and body piercers.

In August the CIEH published the Tattooing and Body Piercing Guidance Toolkit a web-based toolkit available to regulators and practitioners providing evidence based standards and a wealth of advice and support to help raise standards in the industry.

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