As Meningitis Now prepares to support families affected by meningitis and septicaemia at a meeting with Jeremy Hunt today (29 November), the Health and Petitions committees have slammed Government for the unacceptable delay in publishing a long-awaited report that could significantly change the way that vaccines, and importantly meningitis vaccines, are assessed for cost-effectiveness.
In letters published by Helen Jones, Chair of the Petitions Committee, and Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Health Committee, both of whom presided over the debate within parliament that followed a 823,000 parliamentary e-petition, they call Government to account for the unacceptable 18 month delay in publishing the report whilst demanding that its findings are fully scrutinised in a process of open and public consultation.
In making their call, the joint committee cite the valuable role undertaken by those who signed this historic petition, stating that the report "is a matter of huge public interest and concern" and that families and charities have serious questions about the way the Government decides whether it is cost-effective to give children potentially lifesaving vaccinations.
Dr Tom Nutt, CEO of Meningitis Now, said, “We very much welcome the intervention of the Health and Petitions committees and hope that Jeremy Hunt will, in addition to publishing this much-awaited report, take this opportunity to seek wider consultation on its content before he decides what action to take."
“Whilst the lengthy delay has been unacceptable, there is still time - more importantly - for Mr Hunt to initiate an open and transparent process of consultation involving a wider body of health professionals and stakeholders, including patient groups such as Meningitis Now, and we would urge him to do so."
“When Mr Hunt’s office rejected the petition, signed by over 823,000 people to extend the Men B vaccine, it cited the CEMIPP report as being an integral part of the cost-effectiveness process for vaccines moving forward and in doing so "put on hold" the hopes of these people, many of whom had been deeply moved by the sad death of two year old Faye Burdett. The question of vaccine availability is too important for this report not to be properly scrutinised by a wider stakeholder group; surely, if nothing else, Mr Hunt owes them this?”
“As a result of this intervention, the cost-effectiveness report will be submitted to the Secretary of State for Health at the end of November and we, along with the Meningitis Research Foundation, are calling for a proper period of public consultation before Mr Hunt makes his final decisions.”
Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation said: “We are deeply disappointed that decisions affecting vaccines in the UK continue to be discussed behind closed doors by a select group with a narrow focus of expertise, and that several promises to engage more fully and openly with us and other important stakeholders have been broken."
“As we have repeatedly highlighted, the cost effectiveness framework used to assess whether a vaccine should be introduced into the schedule is still deeply unfair to vaccines that prevent uncommon, severe childhood illness. Rather than using the CEMIPP process to fix this, we have concerns that cost-saving measures will drive down investments in vaccines despite their proven public health benefits."
“We have funded research to ensure there is evidence available to make vaccine decision making fairer. And we have stood alongside families demanding action and waiting for news. We have waited up to four months for response to our letters to ministers and over a year for the report. Promises to meet further with us have not be kept."
“We now need an open and transparent process to ensure the best access to vaccines. The outcome of this process could have huge ramifications for meningitis and all vaccinations. We will not wait for it to be buried in the corridors of Whitehall until an announcement is made without any recourse to public consultation. Vaccine decision making needs to be fair and vaccines need to be recognised for the true value they provide.”
Extracts from letters:
Helen Jones, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said, “This petition was signed by more than 800,000 people, many of them motivated by the tragic stories of families who had lost their children to this devastating illness. It’s clear that this is a matter of huge public interest and concern. Families and charities have serious questions about the way the Government decides whether it is cost-effective to give children potentially life-saving vaccinations. This report might sound technical, but its recommendations - and what the Government decides to do with them - could have a big impact. It’s unacceptable that the Government has been sitting on this report for more than a year. It should publish it now and listen to outside views. If it doesn’t, the Committees will have to consider taking action.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Health Committee, said, “I do not accept the Government’s case for refusing to publish this report. There should be many eyes on reports such as this, helping to ensure proper scrutiny and a response which fully takes public views into account. I am very disappointed that the Government considers that the "potential for miscommunication" in publishing this report outweighs the good, which would come from transparency and accountability. As the Government acknowledges, there is great public interest in the matters that the report covers. The public, and experts in the field who were not involved in its publication, should have the opportunity to see it and comment on it before the Government reaches a final view. If the Government will not publish this report promptly, I will be inviting the Health Committee to consider what further steps it can take.”