From September this year, girls aged 12 to 13 will receive the Cervarix vaccine as part of a school vaccination programme. Next year, a catch-up campaign will cover girls up to the age of 18. However, there are many young women who fall outside these groups for whom the HPV jab is clinically appropriate.
Those covered by the catch-up campaign could request the jab now, especially if they believe they will become sexually active in the next 12 months. Not to vaccinate these women would be a missed opportunity and, as GPs have pointed out, totally unethical.
GPs have suggested that the PCTs' motive is cost. Money for these prescriptions would come from the PCT budget, rather than DoH funding for the immunisation programme.
If this is the case, it is yet another example of managers putting short-term thinking ahead of long-term gain. All too often PCTs axe public health initiatives or cut public health budgets to save money, with little regard for longer-term financial and health implications. Set against the average cost of treating a woman for cervical cancer, the price of the vaccine is small change.
The HPV programme in Australia recognises that many young women over 18 would benefit from receiving the vaccine. It covers women up to the age of 26. There is, therefore, an argument that the UK's programmes should be expanded.
However, with cost of paramount importance to UK governments at present - all of which chose to use the cheaper of the two licensed HPV jabs - this is unlikely. Therefore, it is imperative that GPs are able to do the job they are trained for and use their judgment to decide when it is clinically appropriate to administer the vaccine.
It is wholly inappropriate for PCTs to attempt to influence prescribing decisions in this way, especially if the reason behind this is purely financial and the result could be detrimental to patient health.
MORE OPINION ONLINE
Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs. This is what the team had to say this week
"Dental contract increases GPs' workload When will ministers learn that blindly pumping cash into initiatives, in the face of evidence that they are not working, is a waste of taxpayers' money."
"Gordon Brown says he values general practice The Brown government is planning to spend its way out of the credit crunch, but how much of a comfort is that for the practices that have a polyclinic on their doorsteps, threatening to poach their patients?"