Primary care practices need to do more to help protect patients against hepatitis B, a survey commissioned by the British Liver Trust for World Hepatitis Day (today) has revealed.
Practice nurses and GPs are in the frontline to protect patients at risk of the cirrhosis and cancer-causing virus, according to the Trust, and have a vital role in improving coverage of this vaccine.
But only half of practices claim to follow the Green Book guidelines in vaccinating at-risk patients, according to the survey. Reasons for not offering the vaccine included perceived low risk, time and budget constraints and patients being unwilling to pay. The survey also revealed:
Wide variation in charging practices, with some practices charging patients up to £160 for the vaccine.
A quarter of practices wait for patients to admit to high-risk behaviour before offering vaccination.
Nurses highlighting barriers to offering the vaccine, and as a result a third of practices do not even claim to follow the Green Book guidelines.
One in 10 practices did not think it was beneficial to vaccinate injecting drug users.
Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust Alison Rogers said:
"Today is World Hepatitis Day and we urge every primary care health professional to be proactive in considering whether a patient is at-risk now or could be in the future. We need GPs and practice nurses to offer the vaccine and ensure patients see through the course of three injections with follow-up test for immunity. Clinicians particularly in specialist settings such as GUM clinics, haematology and renal care need to double-check patients are protected.
"The Trust believes the NHS policy allowing GP practices to charge for vaccination is short-sighted and can only contribute to health inequalities, particularly between different ethnic groups. There are enough barriers in place without charging such a huge amount, barriers include stigma of admitting high-risk behaviour, anxiety about vaccine and needing to return for the full course.
"We need a fresh approach that doesn't treat this essential vaccine as a luxury item."