NHS officials have promised a range of initiatives, such as supermarket-based clinics, to improve child vaccination rates following a damning audit report.
NHS inefficiency, rather than anti-vax campaigners, is responsible for shortfalls in childhood vaccine rates, the auditors said.
Declining vaccination rates and regular outbreaks of childhood infections have sparked alarm – but the National Audit Office says that the system of inviting parents to bring children for vaccination is inconsistent and lacks oversight.
There are no specific requirements for practices on handling invitations – and even regional child health information services vary in quality, auditors find.
NHS England responded with a new raft of initiatives aimed at improving vaccination rates, proposing to offer them in “convenient” locations, such as supermarkets. Practices could be ofered cash incentives to set up clinics outside their surgeries, it was reported.
The audit report dates recent problems back to 2013 when NHS England took over responsibility for the vaccination system from the former primary care trusts. But it has failed to set out what it expects practices to do, the auditors say.
There was “limited evidence” of anti-vaccination messages on social media having an impact, they say.
NHS England says primary care networks will be able to offer access to evening and weekend appointments. Their own review of vaccination policy simultaneously, insisting that anti-vax messages were having an impact and stated there would be “discussion” of introducing consistent reminder systems.
NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Looking at ways to expand access to appointments will make it even easier for parents to protect their children and with the NHS playing its part, it is vital that everyone takes up this life saving opportunity and isn’t swayed by the dangerous marketing of false information by anti-vaxxers.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: “As the report notes, there are a variety of reasons why fewer children are being vaccinated, and regional variation in the way that parents and carers are invited and reminded to attend appointments is clearly a problem, with London facing particular issues.
“Practices are striving to reach everyone who can be vaccinated using every opportunity to encourage uptake of vaccinations. However, we need resources for improved information systems, particularly regional databases, so that records and vaccination figures are always accurate.
“Furthermore, re-organisation and cuts to services delivered outside of practices – including public health, health visitors and school nurses – mean there are fewer opportunities for both positive discussions around the importance of vaccines and to identify any children who may have missed out earlier.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the House of Commons health committee, said: “The decline in vaccination rates for children in recent years is worrying as is the degree of variation. My committee will be questioning the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England at a hearing in November to press them on their plans to protect children and their wider communities by improving the uptake of vaccinations.”