Riskfactorphobic health professionals

In the light of the recent Nursing Times report, SIRC's warning was clearly justified, as the survey shows that ill-informed health professionals are now undermining a vital vaccination programme

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Riskfactorphobic health professionals put children's lives in danger

A recent survey shows that unfounded panic about the MMR vaccine has spread to some health professionals, whose advice to parents is now based on tabloid scare stories rather than on scientific evidence.

In the Nursing Times (February 17), a GP is quoted as saying "I read a case in the Daily Mail of a child who had the MMR then within a couple of hours went into a coma and died. I tell parents I would not have my own children immunised."

The survey reveals that, following scare stories about MMR, 10% of health visitors and 8% of practice nurses may not recommend vaccination. As a result of such misguided advice, vaccination rates have now dropped below the level necessary to prevent an epidemic of a disease which really does kill children: measles. Dr Russell Dale, neurology registrar at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, warns that "Measles is a killer.if the vaccination programme is undermined, these diseases will return and start killing children."

In May last year, a SIRC bulletin raised concerns about the dangers of 'riskfactorphobia' – a common psychological side-effect of health scares, where people become hyper-sensitive to such scares and overreact

In August last year, in a bulletin entitled 'Scaremongers: the new threat to children's health', SIRC warned that 'riskfactorphobia' was set to become a major public health problem, citing the MMR vaccination crisis as a prime example.

In January this year, a SIRC bulletin highlighted an Australian survey showing that 'riskfactorphobic' GPs were giving misguided dietary advice to asthma sufferers. We warned that any sign of 'riskfactorphobia' among health professionals should be treated as potentially dangerous.

In the light of the recent Nursing Times report, SIRC's warning was clearly justified, as the survey shows that ill-informed health professionals are now undermining a vital vaccination programme – the only protection we have against an epidemic of a killer disease.

For the fourth time, and with increasing concern, we repeat the warning: misleading communication on health is putting children's lives at risk.