Body-piercing parlours should be regulated to protect young people from the growing risk of infection, allergic reactions, and scarring, nurses said yesterday.
As the fashion for body-piercing has grown, led by role models such as the Spice Girl Mel B and the singer Robbie Williams, so have the numbers of people injured by it including some whose lives have been put at risk. The Royal College of Nursing's congress in Bournemouth heard a catalogue of examples of piercings that had gone wrong.
Lesley Chivers from Bristol told how two 13-year-old girls who had had their ears pierced successfully recently went to have their navels done. They paid £25 each to a body-piercer in Hereford who warned them not to wear tight clothes but gave no other advice.
Three weeks later one of the girls noticed her navel was red and inflamed. The following morning her mother tried to get her out of bed and found her feverish and delirious. She was admitted to hospital for rehydration and treatment with antibiotics and now has an unsightly scar.
Natalie Tidy said treating complications caused by body-piercing was costing the NHS £1.5m a year. These included allergies to the nickel often used in place of surgical steel, haemorrhaging and blood-poisoning, leading in rare cases to septicaemia. In a survey of GPs in Rochdale 95 per cent said they had had to deal with complications from body-piercing.
Ms Tidy said: "Shouldn't there be regulation of a practice which could be described as an invasive surgical procedure?"
Ear-piercing is regulated under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act and children under 14 must have parental consent. But the Act does not extend to body-piercing. London boroughs can require body-piercers to register and undergo regular inspection but there are no similar powers outside the capital. Linda Fennell from Belfast told the Congress that any nurse who felt overworked or underpaid had a lucrative alternative in body-piercing. "You can complete a three-day course, or buy a video, or get it over the internet and for £100 you are in business."
She added: "There is greater protection for ear-piercing than genital piercing."
Ann Brady of the Society of Paediatric Nurses said: "It is only a fashion and a fad but it has long-term adverse effects. It is young children of 12 or less trying to emulate their idols. They don't have the knowledge the piercer should have and they don't have the knowledge to ask the right questions. These are the children left with bad scars and infections."
The Department of Health said two years ago that ministers favoured extending the powers of London boroughs to the rest of the country, but this has not happened.
Ms Brady said: "Will something only be done when some famous idol dies?"