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Health Act could have stopped dirty tattooist

Katie Coyne21/12/2016 - 15:40

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Example of Pseudomonas infection
Example of Pseudomonas infection

A man has been banned in Wales from performing tattoos and piercings and given a suspended sentence after causing bacterial skin infections and costing health services £240k.

John Cochran, 60, was sentenced to 16 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years at Cardiff Crown Court on 16 December. Mr Cochran, also known as John Weston, was ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work and given a month’s curfew of 6.30pm-6.30am.

Four of his customers were diagnosed with pseudomonas infections after having piercings and were required surgery due to the severity.

The outbreak in November 2014 was picked up due to the unusual bacterial strain that the individuals presented with and it was traced back to Sun Tattoo.

In response, Public Health Wales and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board had to spend £240k on operation ‘Seren’. The exercise located and tested individuals potentially exposed to blood borne viruses including Hep B and C and HIV at Mr Cochran’s premises Sun Tattoo, Blue Voodoo, and Flesh Wound.

At the special nurse clinics 727 people were tested – 61 per cent of these were contacted directly by letter but 39 per cent were self-presenting. Public Health Wales had to run a social media campaign to find people who had frequented Mr Cochrane’s businesses as his records were incomplete. Further individuals were tested at GP, GUM and Sexual Health clinics.

However, the whole episode could have been avoided with a proper licensing scheme, according to CIEH director Wales Julie Barratt

 Provisions are contained within the new Public Health Bill going through the senate that would require tattooists to prove competence in a range of areas including hygiene and record keeping.

Ms Barratt said: ‘The public health bill that is currently going through will require individuals that do body modifications of any sort – specifically body piercings and tattoos – to be competent and they will have to prove that to us.

‘The bill also includes a ban on intimate piercings for under 18’s – so nipple and genital – whether they have consent from [a parent].’

 She added that under current legislation councils could only act after they had collected evidence that an individual performing piercings and tattoos had caused harm. Action was in retrospect, which wasn’t protecting the public.

Due to the potential severity of pseudomonas infections Welsh health officials had to locate individuals potentially infected. Barratt added that around half of people getting a piercing or tattoo, believe and accept that they will get an infection and are prepared to self-medicate. So by the time they present with an infection, self-medication has already failed and the infection is rife

Of those with nipple and genital piercings a high proportion were girls in care, whose carers would be less likely to notice the procedure due to issues around privacy.  Mr Cochran was offering ‘two for a tenner’ piercings.

Councillor Bob Poole, Newport City Council’s cabinet member for regulatory functions, said: ‘This was an extremely concerning and serious case: for the women who were infected with Pseudomonas, a very nasty infection; for the customers who were then put through the worry of having health tests for potentially serious conditions; and for the authorities who had the huge task of investigating and dealing with the aftermath.

‘It took a lot of resources, both in time and money that could have been avoided if the defendant had carried out the proper hygiene procedures to protect the health and well-being of his customers.

‘We have called for more stringent regulations around the tattooing and piercing industry as it is too easy for people to set up in such businesses and it is very difficult for councils to prevent people from trading. 

‘We can only refuse registration if a court has previously removed their registration and we have to rely on the tattooist or piercer to pass on that information.’

Mr Cochran pleaded guilty to failing to comply with Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Section 16(2)(e) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, that he failed to comply with byelaws.

He admitted to causing bacterial infections (Pseudomonas) in four customers following cosmetic piercings at the premises in 2014.  He also pleaded guilty to failing to ensure needles used in treatments were put into suitable containers after use. 

His registration to practice as a tattooist and piercer was also revoked which means he can no longer work in the Newport area.

In total there were nine hospital admissions and all needed incision and drainage – four under general anaesthetic and five under local anaesthetic. The minimum number of nights in hospital was three and in three cases, stays were longer than 10 days.

The £240k spent on locating and testing individuals could have funded 35 hip replacement operations, 16,666 carbon monoxide alarms, or employed eight full time EHOs for a year.

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