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Lawyers take legal action on behalf of Throat Cancer Foundation over HPV Vaccination

Lawyers write to Jeremy Hunt on behalf of Throat Cancer Foundation threatening judicial review over decision not to vaccinate boys against the human papillomavirus

Posted on 30 May 2018

Lawyers have written to the Secretary of State for Health on behalf of the Throat Cancer Foundation in the first stage of legal action over the Government’s decision to maintain the current vaccination programme that sees teenage girls vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV virus) and not boys.

In the letter before claim sent to Jeremy Hunt on Friday 25th May 2018, the charity states it will challenge the lawfulness of the continuing policy of the Government to provide NHS funding to support the HPV vaccination to adolescent girls, but fails to extend the funding to permit the vaccination of boys.

They claim that this policy constitutes direct discrimination on the grounds of sex contrary to the Equality Act 2010 and is therefore unlawful. The letter before claim, which constitutes the first stage in the judicial review process, states:

“The present policy, which is operated by the Secretary of State based on a prior recommendation of the JCVI, constitutes direct sex discrimination contrary to section 13 of the EA. The relevant public service, namely the provision of HPV vaccinations, has the capacity to benefit both boys and girls. It follows that the only reason that the service is not made available to boys as well as girls is an economic assessment that boys would receive less benefit than girls.”

The charity argues that whilst girls have been vaccinated against HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer, boys are left unvaccinated despite the fact that HPV can lead to 'oropharyngeal' cancers affecting the mouth, tongue and throat. Incidents of these cancers are rising dramatically amongst men and are currently among the fastest growing forms of cancer in the UK.

Girls aged 12-13 have been offered the free HPV vaccine since 2008. It is estimated that vaccinating boys in the same age group would cost an additional £22 million but a decision to implement this was described by the JVCI in a statement issued last year as “not meeting the economic cost-effectiveness criteria for the introduction of a new vaccine.”

Rosa Curling, the lawyer representing the Throat Cancer Foundation, said: "We have notified the Secretary of State of his responsibilities under the Equality Act, an act which requires every public body to treat people equally and renders unlawful a decision taken which directly discriminates on the grounds of gender, religion, sexual orientation or race. " Unless the Secretary of State for Health agree to provide boys, as well as girls, with the HPV vaccination, our client will have no option but to seek the court's intervention in this matter."

Peter Baker, Campaign Director at HPV Action, said: “HPV Action has repeatedly advised health ministers and JCVI officials that denying HPV vaccination to boys could be a breach of equality law as well as poor public health policy.

"The threat of litigation could easily be avoided if the JCVI not only meets its legal obligations but also acts to protect the health of the approximately 400,000 additional boys who each year are currently left unvaccinated and therefore exposed to the risk of developing a life-threatening cancer caused by HPV.”

Jamie Rae, Founder of Throat Cancer Foundation, commented: "As a survivor of a cancer caused by HPV I do not want anyone else to have to go through the unnecessary suffering caused by a HPV-related cancer. We are in the rare position of being able to prevent cancer through vaccination, but the government is sentencing men to entirely avoidable cases through their current policy.

"The timeline for the JCVI’s decision on universal HPV vaccination has been repeatedly pushed back and there is now no published timescale despite HPV-related cancer cases soaring. Lives continue to be lost and survivors are left with life long and often life changing side effects from the necessarily brutal treatment required to beat the disease. HPV does not discriminate, and neither should our healthcare system. Someone has to call time on this inequitable and negligent policy. Enough is enough."