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Problems with imminent extension of vaccination scheme for new-born babies

As reported in the Medical Independent (MI) on 7 November, agreement with GPs on the new arrangements and fees for the revised Primary Childhood Immunisation Programme, due to commence on 1 December, had not yet been reached. From the beginning of next month, the Department of Health and the HSE had planned to add two new vaccines to be given by GPs to all children born after 1 October last.

The additional vaccines are for Meningococcal B (MenB) and Rotavirus. Ireland has the highest rate of invasive meningococcal disease in Europe and MenB disease is the major cause of these infections which can cause severe illness and death. Rotavirus disease is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in children and results in 1,000 hospital admissions each year. Both vaccines are widely used internationally and have a proven effectiveness.

Speaking today, Dr Austin Byrne of the IMO GP Committee said that the failure of the Department to plan for the introduction of the vaccines on schedule is “deeply regrettable”. He said: “These are important vaccines. Indeed, I will be giving my own new-born baby these vaccines and I strongly support their widespread introduction across the community. GPs have played a key role in ensuring that Ireland has one of the most effective immunisation regimes in the world but this experience makes me fearful that this will be lost. Following early discussions with the IMO, the Department of Health and the HSE have simply disengaged in the past number of weeks, leaving GPs, and more importantly parents of new-borns, at a loss as to what is happening. This really is a disgrace. There is a lot of talk about new contracts and health reform but we fear, if this is to be the level of engagement, that is all it is – talk.”

Dr Byrne said the IMO has written in recent days to the HSE to express its concern over the delays and advised them that the IMO will have to write to GPs to advise them that no agreement has been reached and that it seems unlikely that the vaccines will be introduced on 1 December. “The IMO has a framework agreement in place with the HSE to discuss arrangements for new work like this but the HSE and Department has failed to engage meaningfully with us on what is an important public health initiative for children. In a nutshell, the disorganisation of the Department and the HSE means that the rollout of these important vaccinations is now at risk. It is now up to the Minister to ensure that this welcome public health policy can be delivered to new-borns.”

The NAGP recently sent a letter to its members informing them it was lobbying and seeking clarification from the HSE and Department on the arrangements for the new vaccines. 

Today the NAGP issued a statement urgently seeking its inclusion in negotiations on the new childhood vaccination schedule, following confirmation that the talks between the IMO and the HSE on that matter have failed to reach agreement. Citing concern for patient safety, the NAGP is now calling on the Government to include its representatives in these negotiations in an effort to avoid delays.

Dr Emmet Kerin, NAGP President, said, “We are seeking to be included in talks so that agreement can be reached urgently and avoid a delay in delivery of the new vaccine schedule. The NAGP has previously stated that we are happy to work alongside the IMO on negotiations. The NAGP campaigned for the introduction of the Meningococcal B vaccine and we are disappointed at the potential delay in the implementation of the scheme”. 

Dr Kerin concluded, “While the NAGP will be included in negotiations for a new GP contract, we are not party to the ongoing negotiations on the new vaccination schedule, as these precede a new contract. As the largest representative body for general practice, we are disappointed that we have not been included in these negotiations”.

The NAGP said it was writing to the Minister again today (Monday) to seek its inclusion in talks in the hopes of a speedy resolution.

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