Girls at risk in cancer jab row

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TENS of thousands of girls are at risk of contracting cancer because of a row over funding for a vaccine between doctors and the Government.

Health workers have been forced to set up makeshift clinics across Scotland after plans for all family doctors to provide the cervical cancer jab collapsed.

But early figures indicate that up to a third of school leavers have failed to receive the jab.

The revelation is an embarrassment to the Scottish Government, which launched the HPV vaccine last year in a blaze of publicity.

Uptake among pupils, who are vaccinated at school, is high. But plans to immunise up to 120,000 school leavers over the next three years in a 1.7m "catch-up" campaign are now in doubt.

Robert Music, director of the cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust, said: "If we lose these girls they are going to be at risk of cervical cancer and that could result in tragedies."

Dr Dean Marshall, chair of the British Medical Association's Scottish GP Committee, said many doctors were not offering the catch-up service because it was not being "resourced appropriately".

Yet Marshall warned that GPs are best placed to provide the service because they can easily target patients eligible for the vaccination against the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer.

Some GPs will provide jabs but in many cases health boards have set up separate arrangements to immunise school leavers and girls who have missed out on school sessions.

Campaigners warned the move would put lives at risk because many girls would simply be lost in the system.

Marshall said: "It's the difficult-to-reach girls who were always going to be the problem and we were trying to negotiate a fee that would cover the amount of money it would cost us to bring in staff, write to them several times and phone them."

The Government had offered GPs around 22.53 for each girl they immunised but a lower fee of 13.50 if staff employed by the local health board carried out the task at the GP's surgery.

But the BMA had wanted around 25 for each girl and refused the lower fee because they said it would not cover costs. Now the scheme is being run differently in each part of the country.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway has set up 10 clinics because no GP surgery is offering the service. Just one-third of GPs in NHS Greater Glasgow are providing the jabs.

And girls in NHS Lothian must attend their nearest out-of-hours clinic.

Yesterday, most health boards refused to reveal figures but, among pupils immunised in school, uptake is understood to be high, at around 90%.

However, figures released by NHS Dumfries and Galloway reveal uptake among school leavers of just 67%.

Dr Barbara West, a GP in Drumchapel, Glasgow, decided not to offer the jabs after the BMA and the Scottish Government failed to reach agreement.

She said: "At some point you can't cope with the workload without taking on new staff, and that is a permanent commitment in the expenses you pay out."

Public Health Minister Shona Robison said: "It's disappointing that a national agreement could not be reached."