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Complementary referral 'madness'

The Government has been accused of 'penny pinching' by ignoring World Health Organisation pleas to introduce universal hepatitis B vaccination.

Around 7,700 new chronic cases of the disease could be prevented in the UK each year by the introduction of routine vaccination, claims Professor Roger Williams, former president of the British Society for Gastroenterology.

Current policy is to restrict vaccination to high-risk groups including injecting drug misusers, health care workers and babies born to mothers with chronic hepatitis B.

But Professor Williams, professor of hepatology at University College London, said the Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had been 'sitting for two years' on a decision to introduce hepatitis B immunisation into the childhood schedule.

'The cost is penny-pinching,' said Professor Williams, director of the Liver Research Foundation, which last week published a report demanding mass vaccination. 'The cost of the vaccine if you bulk buy

is £25. The cost of treating a patient with hepatitis B is £5,000-£10,000 per year and the cost of liver transplantation is vastly greater.'

Dr Nigel Hewett, a GP in Leicester who vaccinates many drug misusers at his PMS project for the homeless, said he suspected public reticence to accept another vaccine was behind the procrastination.

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