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Vaccine advisers condemn ministers' 'wrong message'

Government immunisation advisers have criticised ministers for sending out 'the wrong message' on the importance of childhood vaccines.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is angry at the failure to include vaccine uptake data when awarding PCT star ratings this year. The committee has called for their inclusion in PCT performance indicators in 2004/5.

The committee also blamed falling uptake rates for MMR and DTP vaccines in England on the reorganisation of health authorities into PCTs.

The JCVI said some PCTs had not yet clearly identified their target populations and was concerned some of the up- take data may be unreliable.

JCVI chair Professor Michael Langman hoped the issue of reliable vaccine uptake data was 'short-term' but believed the omission of immunisation targets in the list of performance indicators was 'unfortunate'.

In unusually strong language, the latest JCVI minutes said: 'The committee agreed it was important to have clearly defined immunisation targets and supported strongly the inclusion of childhood immunisation targets in PCT performance indicators. This omission was unfortunate and sent out the wrong message regarding the importance of childhood immunisation.'

Dr Mike Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance and a GP in Cullompton, Devon, said if the targets were introduced it would demoralise inner-city practices.

He said: 'There are too many targets and performance indicators. The important thing is to get it right in the first place rather than performance manage things.

'In terms of star ratings, it would be unfair because

vaccine uptake levels are

related to social class and

geography.

'It would demoralise inner-city practices that are working very hard to get good uptake levels and reward more leafy practices that don't need to try that hard to get good uptake.'

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the PCT performance indicators for 2002/3 were drawn up in consultation with the NHS and reflected the core functions of a PCT ­ service provision, commissioning and health improvement.

She added: 'Performance ratings are calculated by assessing performance against key targets, a large and broader set of indicators. It is not possible to include all elements of a PCT's role within the performance ratings.'

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