Last week I reported on the terrible news that Hammersmith and Fulham has only half vaccination rate for shingles as the national average.
I suggested that the Council could make a difference by using a relatively modest amount from its £22.7 million Public Health budget with practical measures to increase the take up of the jab.
The Council could write to all qualifying residents to urge them to take the jab. They should back this up with visits. They could fund the NHS to make it as easy as possible – for instance offering the vaccination on site in sheltered housing accommodation and indeed in residents’ private homes. They could also pay for the vaccine itself for borough residents aged 73-77? (At present those who were 70, 71, 72, 78 or 79 years old on the 1st September, 2015 qualify for a free vacine from the NHS.) Preventing elderly residents from getting this very unpleasant disease would actually save the Council money in terms of the adult social care budget.
I have wrote to Cllr Vivienne Lukey, the Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care urging her to take action. I’m her reply read to me like a collection of excuses for doing nothing very much at all. She rejected my proposals – but didn’t offer any very tangible alternative – apart from holding lots of meetings. Here is her reply in full:
“Dear Cllr Phibbs,
Thank you for your email. Shingles is a horrible condition – you may have had family experience of this, as I have. Prevention is better than cure and I am determined that we get our health partners to improve on past performance.
I am unclear as to whether you have misunderstood the letter from Stuart Lines or have chosen to disregard what he has explained. NHS England has both the duty and the budget to commission GPs and NHS providers to carry out immunisations . There is no funding for this within our Council Public Health budget, which (as you well know) is being cut by the Government. Given the other pressures on our funds, it makes no sense to me to attempt to take on a job which other bodies are paid to do so I cannot accept your original suggestions. I realise you put forward these ideas before you had been briefed about statutory duties and am sure you were trying to be helpful.
But of course we will want to do the best we can to reduce shingles in our borough. We have an absolute commitment to defend our NHS services and improve health outcomes for our residents.
What we will do is to use our health and wellbeing leadership role to hold our partners to account and use our Council , voluntary and independent sector communication channels to encourage take up by educating residents about the consequences of getting shingles and signposting them to immunisation. I have asked for further work to be undertaken about eligibility for the vaccination (since it is restricted to older people) so we can see whether we need to lobby the Government for wider access.
We set up a multi agency partnership group last summer which is led by the Council, and attended by myself and Cllr Holder. It has developed new ways of publicising immunisation across the sectors and increasing take up in a wider range of venues and at weekends. This has proved a very effective forum for pressing NHS London Public Health officials and GP management for a proactive and sustained programme , which the Council can in turn promote. As Stuart Lines explained to you in his letter, this will be our vehicle for driving up performance.
Thank you for taking an interest in what we are doing.
Cllr. Vivienne Lukey
Labour Councillor for Fulham Reach Ward
Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care”
I have replied as follows:
I do think that your reply is quite disgraceful.
Just because we do not have a statutory requirement to do something does not preclude us from doing it. Nor do I accept that there is not the funding available given that there is £1.8 million unallocated from the Public Health budget for this year and that much of the total £22.7 million budget is ineffectively spent at present.
While you say that you wish to reduce the level of shingles in our borough you fail to back any practical measures for doing so but instead offer bureaucratic waffle.