Our expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, issued its final advice on HPV vaccination for boys on 18 July. I have carefully considered its advice, and I wanted to tell the House first that the Government will introduce a nationwide HPV vaccination programme for adolescent boys. This will bring clear health benefits for boys, providing them with direct protection against HPV infection and associated disease, including a number of cancers.
I declare an interest as a very, very part-time dentist.
I am delighted by the response, but given the importance of head and neck cancer prevention for both sexes, but especially for males, who are twice as susceptible, will the Minister supplement this programme with a catch-up programme, as was done for girls in 2008, to make the vaccine available for 14 to 18-year-old boys?
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming this. The British Dental Association has been key in lobbying on this issue, as has—I give credit where it is due—The Mail on Sunday, which has campaigned on it for a long time. I have asked NHS England and Public Health England to work together to advise me on the implementation of the programme, including with regard to the issue that he raises, which makes a lot of sense and for which there is precedent from the girls’ programme. I will of course consider the advice and confirm the implementation plan as soon as possible.
I congratulate the Minister on that announcement. The vaccine also plays its part in protecting against sexually transmitted disease. Will he saying something about the fact that syphilis is now at its highest rate since the second world war and that there are strains of gonorrhoea resistant to treatment? What are the Government going to do about this?
They are linked but separate issues. Yes, the HPV vaccine is very important for adolescent boys, for men who have sex with men and for people before their sexual debut. Sexual health is of course a huge challenge. We work closely with local authorities—top-tier local authorities are all public health authorities—and, through the ring-fenced public health grant, which is £16 billion during this spending review period, we are providing those services.
Cancer survival rates are now at an all-time high thanks to the brilliant and dedicated work of clinicians, including at Cheltenham General Hospital, but prevention is better than cure. Will the Secretary of State direct his customary energy towards prevention work, including vaccinations, but also tackling risk factors such as obesity?
Yes, he will. I am pleased to say that prevention is one of the Secretary of State’s three key priorities. The HPV vaccine is a key prevention measure, while one of the drivers behind the child obesity plan was Cancer Research UK’s very clear advice that being overweight was one of the big risk factors, alongside diabetes, in cancer. Yes, prevention is always better than cure.
I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the JCVI’s recommendation to extend the vaccination programme to adolescent boys, but the Minister will know that there are huge regional differences in the take-up of the vaccination among girls. What steps will he take to tackle these regional differences before and during the roll-out to boys?
The shadow Minister is absolutely right to raise this issue, which she also raised with me in the Westminster Hall debate on the same subject introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who has done a lot in this area. I have already spoken to Public Health England about this in respect of the girls’ programme, and I will be speaking to it again now that we have announced the boys’ programme, because the equality of doing the dual programme must be matched by the equality of its taking place in her constituency as much as in mine in Hampshire.