Some doctors' scare tactics leave parents angry and more confused than ever over what to do for the best

Doctors are breaking cover for the first time to admit that some of them are using scare tactics to persuade patients to allow their babies to have controversial MMR jabs.

Doctors are breaking cover for the first time to admit that some of them are using scare tactics to persuade patients to allow their babies to have controversial MMR jabs.

GPs are doing everything from likening parents to "child abusers" to threatening to strike their children off their registers if they fail to consent to the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine. Others are being asked to sign disclaimers absolving their doctors of blame for any ill effects their sons and daughters suffer as a result of their decision to reject it.

While many GPs claim to have the best interests of their patients at heart, some admit their threats are motivated by financial pressures. To qualify for full health authority funding, doctors must prove that 95 per cent of their infant patients have had the triple vaccine by the age of two.

One GP admitted trying to massage his vaccination figures by asking at least one patient to allow him to remove her children from his official list.

"The idea was that we would continue to treat her children on a private basis and that would mean we they would not appear on our MMR target list, and the practice would not be financially penalised," said the doctor, who wanted to remain anonymous. "We discussed it, but it was not in the end deemed an acceptable way forward. I might have got away with it for a while, but eventually I would have got in trouble with the health authority. The problem is that the Government's vaccination targets are drawn in so tightly that, for an average-sized practice, you can only afford about one family to say no to prevent you from meeting them."

Meanwhile, Dr John Dysan of Glasgow's Govanhill Health Centre confirmed he had used disclaimers in the past to ensure that parents opposed to the MMR understood the full implications of their decisions and were prepared to take responsibility for them. He said they had been used only "on three or four occasions in the past 20 years", when patients failed to respond to repeated reminders that their child's jab was due.

Many parents regard the tactics their GPs have used as emotional blackmail. Kaye Mayers from Hastings, East Sussex, turned down the triple vaccine for daughters Amber, three, and Cleo, one, because of her concern about recent medical studies linking it to bowel disease and autism. A local GP dismissed her stance as verging on "child abuse", before refusing to accept her children as patients.

"He started off being patronising and then resorted to bullying," said Ms Mayers. "He then went on to say that some people might feel this was a form of child abuse. Then he said, 'Your child could become a ward of court if you're not careful.' I told him I had had some experience of that from my childhood, and he just said, 'It's often those who've been abused who become the abuser.'"

Clare Maherloughan from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, was horrified to find in her surgery's waiting room copies of an article in which the risk posed by unvaccinated children was compared with that of "drunk drivers".

Another parent, who did not wish to be named, said her GP suggested treating her son as a "visitor" to his practice for the same reason. She said: "What so annoyed me is that the Government keeps on giving out statistics about how many children are being immunised with the MMR, but it's giving a false picture because if other GPs are doing this the real figures are obviously nothing like that. There must be lots of children who are statistically invisible."

A Department of Health spokesman said the Government was aware that some GPs were asking patients to sign "pieces of paper" confirming that they had been informed of all the vaccination options available to them. But he criticised the scare tactics allegedly being used by some GPs as "extreme". He added: "We would strongly oppose any action of doctors who tried to remove patients from their lists because they refused to be immunised and, from past experience, the General Medical Council would also take a dim view."

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