25th March 2015

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Dame Julie Mellor, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in conversation with Roy Lilley

King's Fund 15th April Details here

News and Comment from Roy Lilley

There is a topic, I have to admit, I have been too timid to write about. Lilley-livered. It's not a major, or earth shattering issue. It's not make-or-break. It interests me and takes me to a place I know will be tricky.


There is money involved and the arguments for and against will ebb and flow like a tide on a spring day. In the US, where the Harris Polling Company carried out some research, they estimate it involved one in five people. UK? Dunno but we do know; where the US goes, the UK usually follows.


I'm talking tattoos. Harris Polling tells us:

  • At least two in five say that people with tattoos are less attractive (45%) or sexy (39%);
  • One-quarter say that people with tattoos are less intelligent (27%), healthy (25%) or spiritual (25%);
  • Having a tattoo seems to make little difference in non-tattooed people's perceptions regarding strength and athleticism (82% say it makes no difference).

On the other hand...

  • Three in ten people with tattoos say it makes them feel more sexy (30%)
  • Most have never regretted getting a tattoo (86%)
  • One-quarter say having a tattoo makes them feel rebellious (25%), 21% say both it makes them feel attractive or strong, 16% say it makes them feel spiritual and some say it makes them feel more healthy (9%), intelligent (8%) or athletic (5%).

So, pick the bones out of that! It looks like the very reason people have a Tatt' are the very reasons they shouldn't!


I have to confess I regard the Lilley-Body as something of a temple of perfection and the thought of writing on it makes me wince. As I get older I might contemplate a sign; 'This Way Up' and a bar-code to explain my 30 medications!


A lot of readers write to me with their ideas on how the NHS should be run and in this time of austerity, how it should save money. There is a familiar list and always, somewhere... tattoo removal. Is it an issue?


Following a Freedom of Information Act request from the Sun newspaper, it emerged the NHS has stumped-up 350,000 on tattoo removal. Looks like a significant amount of cash to me. At least until you look more closely.


The figures have been collected for a four year period. So I make that 87,500 a year.


It involved 2,000 people, or about 500 a year. So, five hundred people a year costing us 87,500... isn't that 175 each?


We probably have David Beckham and the Prime Minister's missus (who has a dolphin on her ankle) to thank for that. The Tory Party blue-rinse faithful and football supporters in the same queue...


A figure I can't substantiate but seems to emerge regularly in UK articles, here, four in ten people are said to regret having a tattoo and one in six want them removed.


A drunken night, bad company or an infatuation can leave the unwary with a souvenir for life. I get, absolutely, there will be times when filled with regret, embarrassment, distress and depression losing a Tatt' could make a real difference.


Free on the NHS? In the scheme of things, we are going to have to do a bit better than tattoo removal to find the cash to fill the 30bn black-hole. Perhaps we should look elsewhere...


In 2010 central government received 27,294 FoI requests. If every request costs an average of 293 and takes 7.5 hours to process - (old figures from Frontier Economics) - the spend totals 7.9m, and takes 200,000 hours in research time.


The NHS? More recently cost estimates put responding to FoI requests, across the whole of the NHS, was around 30m.


Maybe we are looking in the wrong place to save money? Information comes with a cost but should we put a price on it? Should we introduce a cost-benefit analysis scoring template for FoI? 


Alternatively, if we took every piece of information the NHS has and put it on a website people could dig for free.


A right to know, of course.  A right to find out?  Certainly.  But, what is the right price and the right way to do it? 


See, I told you it was tricky.


What exactly does the Health Ombudsman do?

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Health Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor - details here 

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Dame Julie Mellor
Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman
In conversation with
Roy Lilley
15th April 2015
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