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Government refuses to publish child health concerns over NHS reforms

The Department of Health has refused a request to publish a list of concerns sent to the department by its immunisation advisers about the affect of its NHS reforms on children's health, Pulse can reveal.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation expressed concerns in its minutes of its February meeting that the NHS reforms would affect the management of the Child Health Information Systems (CHIS), which contains information regarding immunisations and screening programmes in children.

It also warned that the reforms would make it harder for directors of public health to identify potential problems in immunisation programmes.

The minutes said that the committee would highlight concerns about the potential risks of changes in a letter to the chief medical officer. However, the Government has refused to grant a request under the Freedom of Information Act from Pulse to obtain copies of the letter, and the reply from the CMO.

A letter from the DH said: ‘The Department recognises the general public interest in making this information available for the sake of greater transparency and openness.'

‘However, the Department is of the view that Government officials need to be able to engage in free and frank discussion of all the policy options internally to expose their merits and demerits and their possible implications as appropriate.

‘Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the content of such discussion will be disclosed in the near future.'

The response mirrors that given in response to an FOI request to publish the DH's risk register for the NHS reforms.

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation lead and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: ‘From the point of view of immunisation and vaccination, we have had a superb system that is working very well. With the changes we are about to have, nobody knows whether the changes will work better,

‘My worry is that the new system will not be as efficient as, for example, CHIS has been in the past. I suspect the same worries are shared by the JCVI.

‘Otherwise, why would such a body worry? They have never worried in the past about changes in the NHS. Perhaps the DH does not want to share the JCVI's worries with anyone else.'