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Meningitis care 'could be hit' by health reforms

Campaigners say NHS reforms could destabilise the UK's position as a world leader in meningitis treatment
By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
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14th December 2011 - Campaigners backing better meningitis care have launched a campaign to ensure that standards of treatment and prevention do not suffer as a result of reforms to the NHS.

The Meningitis Research Foundation fears that health service funding cutbacks may destabilise progress that is being made to control meningitis and septicaemia, which is the blood poisoning form of the disease. It also says that the UK's reputation as a world leader in meningitis monitoring and immunisation would be at risk if the reforms meant cuts in care, treatment and working towards 100% immunisation.

Feared disease

Chris Head, the Foundation's chief executive officer, says that a recent poll suggested that parents share the Foundation’s concerns about meningitis. "Our survey shows that it remains one of the most feared diseases by parents of young children. It's been the biggest killer of children from [infectious] disease in the UK - and these two reasons alone suggest that it should remain a very, very high health priority," he tells BootsWebMD.

The survey was carried out by pharmaceutical company Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, a manufacturer of meningitis vaccines. It found that 75% of parents across the UK rated meningitis as one of the most feared infectious diseases that their child could contract. Also, 89% of parents questioned said that meningitis should be considered a high public health priority.

About meningitis

It is estimated that around 3,400 people in the UK get bacterial meningitis and septicaemia each year.

Progress has been made in recent years in getting children vaccinated against bacterial meningitis through the national child immunisation programme. Children currently receive the meningitis C vaccination as part of the programme. However, children are not fully protected against all causes of meningitis and septicaemia. For instance, there is currently no vaccine to prevent meningococcal group B disease, which is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK, accounting for an average of five cases each day.

Lobbying politicians

Supporters of the Meningitis Matters campaign, which is backed by the Meningitis Research Foundation, gathered at Westminster yesterday to lobby parliament over their fears that planned NHS reforms will adversely affect meningitis care. They warned that meningitis and septicaemia are easily misdiagnosed, can kill within hours of the first symptoms appearing and may cause serious, life-long disabilities, despite appropriate treatment.

They told MPs that as many as one in 10 of those affected will die and a quarter of survivors will be left with after-effects which can be as severe as brain damage, amputations and hearing loss.

The Meningitis Matters campaign is calling on the government to maintain the progress that has been made and ensure that:

  • Vaccines that prevent meningitis are introduced into the immunisation schedule as soon as they become available
  • Healthcare professionals have sufficient training to enable them to identify and manage meningitis
  • Adequate follow-up, care and support are provided to those left with after-effects of meningitis and septicaemia

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