Tattoo craze hits blood supplies

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL AND pop music celebrities are being blamed for a dramatic fall in the number of people donating blood. The rage for tattooing and body piercing, especially among girls, has resulted in thousands of potential donors being turned away by the clinics.

New figures show UK blood stocks are being put at risk because of the fall in donors. Strict rules to stop the spread of hepatitis B, HIV and other blood infections, mean any potential blood donor who has had an "invasive skin procedure" cannot donate for 12 months.

Ten per cent of donors are being turned away every day because they have been tattooed or had an eyebrow, belly button, cheek, tongue or even their genitals pierced. This equates to almost 40,000 units of blood lost - many from young women coming forward to give blood for the first time.

The UK National Blood Service says the trend is being driven by young role models such as All Saints, Robbie Williams, David Beckham and the Spice Girls.

Richard Lodge, the national blood collection co-ordinator for the NBS in England and Scotland, yesterday confirmed that 10 per cent of people are turned away from a donor session on any one day.

"It may seem a small percentage of the total donors, but as absolute numbers they are significant. The worry is that the trend is going up," he said. Mr Lodge is concerned for national blood stocks because a whole generation of new donors could be discouraged.

"Many people usually have more than one piercing. If we defer people for a year from the date of the piercing and then during that time they have another one done and then another, it is means there is a year-long gap every time. It is easy to see that this could result in us losing donors for a long period of time and the longer the time the less chance there is to get them back."

Trudi Evans, of the Welsh Blood Authority, said the situation was becoming serious: "A lot of people are turned away. It is the difference between some hospitals getting an adequate blood supply and not."

Last month a survey published in the Journal of Accident and Emergency Medicine by Staffordshire general hospital revealed that few doctors know the proper way to remove a nose or navel ring and that they can inflict further damage as they fumble with body jewellery. But despite concerns about the dangers of infection and mutilation, Mr Lodge says young role models have made exotic body decoration acceptable.

"Tattoos and body piercing were once considered to be confined to Hell's Angels and S&M devotees and various other extreme groups. The whole social acceptance and tolerance has changed - they are now fashionable and trendy." Everyone who goes to give blood is asked if they have been tattooed, pierced or had some non-NHS accredited acupuncture in the past 12 months. Ear piercing also carries a 12-month ban, but is not considered problematic for blood supplies as most people have their ears pierced before they are 18.

The NBS says it has to impose the 12-month ban because there is no regulatory body for tattoo and piercing parlours or some acupuncture and permanent make-up techniques.

"Any skin which is punctured in this way will carry an increased risk of infection especially when the procedure is repeated on many customers and the needles become contaminated," Mr Lodge said.