Immunisation

Information from health professionals

Every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases and about the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child, and the population in general. In addition to their GP, health visitor or practice nurse, there is also an immunisation advisor in each local health protection unit, whom parents can talk to about their child's immunisations. (See Public Health England for details about local contacts). The GP can also refer parents to an immunology paediatric specialist for further advice on immunisations, if appropriate. 

Many parents we interviewed felt strongly that doctors, health visitors and midwives would not give advice to parents if they believed it wasn't true or safe. Some felt that, when making decisions, it is best to be led by the health professionals because they are the experts. 

In the past decade, however, some parents in the UK have doubted the information they received from health professionals about their child's immunisations. 

“I talked to my GP who I've always trusted implicitly and she said that the MMR was safe as far as she knew and that was the first time that I thought, but you work for the NHS I bet that's not true what you told me. Which now a year after he had the MMR it's quite bizarre to think I could have thought that about my GP.”  [Interview 31- Mother of a 2 and half-year-old boy.]

Sensational reporting in the media, conspiracy theories, and lack of trust in the government, has done much to place doubts in the minds of some parents about the information given by health professionals about immunisations in the belief that they were following a government agenda, which might not be appropriate for their child. 

However, health professionals do now have a huge body of research evidence available to them, all of which indicates the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines.

The overwhelming majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population.

Parents had talked to their health visitor, the practice nurse, their GP, their midwife, and in some cases to an immunology specialist or to a homeopathic practitioner. Some got a second opinion from a private GP or medically trained friends and relations. 

Most parents found that talking to health professionals had been the best source of information to reassure them when they had concerns about immunisations. Parents' perceptions of the information given by health professionals were sometimes affected by how well they knew their GP.

Some parents said they would have liked more information on immunisations from health professionals, for example, getting answers to the questions they had, getting further information on facts they had read about, or talking about their particular concerns (see 'What type of information do parents want?').

Some parents took on board information from health professionals as part of their information seeking process but they personally believed that information from health professionals was unlikely to be objective and likely to be leaning strongly in favour of immunisation. A small number personally believed that the general practice team could not give unbiased information about immunisations because they were obliged to follow the Department of Health guidelines. As mentioned above, there is a considerable amount of research evidence to suggest that vaccines are safe and effective.

Do doctors get paid for immunisations?
In the NHS, childhood immunisations have been part of the service that GPs are contracted to provide, and they do not get paid extra for each child who is immunised. There is a scheme to give general practices small additional payments if they meet certain targets set by the Department of Health, and the targets include childhood immunisations. The money from these bonuses goes into the practice account and is not given to an individual doctor or nurse. Childhood vaccines are bought from pharmaceutical companies by the Department of Health and distributed at no cost to the general practices. The arrangements for adult vaccines, for example the annual influenza campaign (flu vaccine), and for travel immunisations are different, and there is a more direct link between the number of immunisations given and the money earned by the practice. Doctors are paid for immunisations given privately outside the NHS.

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated July 2013

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