My Department has considered the statement to which the Deputy refers. The Review Group on Primary Childhood Immunisation, in its report produced in 1994, considered that the general practitioner was ideally placed to deliver this service and should be the principal health professional involved in its delivery. Since 1996 the primary childhood immunisation programme has been administered through general practice. Under the agreement through which general practitioners contract to undertake childhood immunisations, they are required to take an appropriate patient history, provide pre-immunisation advice and information and examine the child. The formal consent of the child's parent or guardian must also be obtained.
The Medical Council's publication, A Guide to Ethical Conduct and Behaviour and Fitness to Practise, indicates that every effort should be made by a doctor to ensure that a patient understands the nature and purpose of planned medical interventions. The guide does not specify how or what information is to be given but rather places an onus on the doctor to ensure that the patient or, in the case of childhood immunisation, the parent or guardian, understands the issue. The guide acknowledges that whether or not a patient is sufficiently informed to consent to medical treatment may be difficult to resolve.
Immunisation of children is not compulsory and it is open to a parent who does not wish to have his or her child immunised, or who wishes to have time to consider the matter further, not to proceed with the immunisation. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland's publication, Immunisation Guidelines for Ireland, contains detailed information for doctors on immunisation, contraindications to the administration of vaccines and their possible side-effects. This booklet is currently being reviewed by the college's immunisation advisory committee. My Department has produced an information leaflet which is widely available and contains information for parents on the importance of immunisation and how they can go about having their child immunised.