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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Government will not write off PCT arrears

GPs will be asked to vaccinate up to 90,000 five-to-11-year-olds with MMR after officials launched a catch-up campaign in a last-ditch bid to avert a measles epidemic.

But GPC negotiators warned the campaign could fail unless GPs are paid for the extra work.

All primary school children in London will receive a leaflet this month or next telling their parents a measles outbreak is inevitable and urging them to get their children immunised if they haven't already.

Children whose parents consent will then receive the first dose of an accelerated schedule in school clinics and be told to visit their GP a month later for a booster.

Health officials are also considering extending the catch-up programme across the UK over the next year, starting in the major cities.

The new drive, announced by NHS London last week, will also target GP practices with low MMR uptake for visits from PCT officials, who will press GPs to do more to improve their rates.

Dr David Elliman, consultant community paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital who has played a key role in the programme, was confident the leaflets would scare parents of primary school children into accepting the vaccine.

'With parents who had made a positive decision not to immunise their children I would hope the changing attitude in the press would have an effect,' he said.

Only 58 per cent of children in London have received two doses of MMR.

Dr Stewart Drage, GPC negotiator and co-chair of London-wide LMCs, said unless funding was provided for GPs to carry out the vaccinations they would struggle to cope.

'It's very frustrating,' he said. 'GPs would be happy to do this if they were paid for the work. But funding hasn't yet been found and at a time when GPs are struggling with flu immunisation, they are now being told to take on another major campaign.'

GPC chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said locally enhanced services would have to be set up before GPs could carry out the vaccinations.

Dr Mary Ramsay, consultant epidemiologist at the Health Protection Agency, said only a 'very small proportion' of parents were adamant they didn't want the vaccine.

'The evidence shows a lot of parents are confused and have delayed the decision,' she said.

By Emma Wilkinson

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