Last updated at 8:28 AM on 26th October 2010
Teenage girls are being bribed with high street shopping vouchers to receive a highly controversial vaccine.
A health trust is promising them £45 in tokens for stores such as HMV, Argos and Debenhams if they agree to the cervical cancer jab, which protects against a sexually-transmitted virus that can cause tumours.
Opponents say the vaccine – dubbed the ‘promiscuity jab’ – encourages girls to have sex earlier than they would.
Only last week the government said it could not afford to fund Labour’s pledge that all cancer victims should have one-to-one nursing care and one-week access to diagnostic tests.
The shopping voucher scheme is being run by Birmingham East and North primary care trust, and costs around £22,500 a year.
It offers ‘Love to Shop’ vouchers to girls aged 16 to 18 which can be spent at high street stores. They receive a total of £45 worth of vouchers for turning up for all three injections against the HPV virus.
The trust was advised by Mark Brighton, who used to work for Sainsbury’s Nectar card but has now set up a company called Healthy Incentives.
He said: ‘What Birmingham East and North had seen is that they’d get a number of people turning up for the first injection but then they wouldn’t see the whole course through.
‘So we thought – is there a way we can offer incentives for each of those three injections, so that we can encourage a better attendance rate and therefore a better vaccination rate?
‘They are offered a decent lump – a nice little £20 to come along to the first session, £5 for the second session and another £20 for the final, third, injection.’
A spokesman for the trust said 500 teenage girls had been offered the vouchers, and the effectiveness of the scheme was being monitored.
Professor Theresa Marteau, from the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health, said there is evidence that paying for girls to have vaccines can work.
But she added: ‘There is a concern that if you give that amount of money to young people, they will run along to get the money and not pay attention to the treatments that are being offered.’
Bribing teens to get the HPV vaccine – how low can you get? Where is the informed consent? This has never been done before and it is reprehensible.