GP surgeries should text or phone the parents of children who have missed their MMR jab, the Government's health protection chief urges today.
Duncan Selbie calls on family doctors to go through the 'painstaking task' of searching their records to hunt for unvaccinated patients.
Families which have slipped through the net should be called or sent text reminders inviting them to the surgery, he says.
Mr Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, also calls on the NHS to offer more vaccination clinics outside normal working hours.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he accepts that the health service needs to provide other appointments 'in addition to the traditional trip to the doctor'.
Public Health England Chief Executive Duncan Selbie (pictured) calls on family doctors to go through the 'painstaking task' of searching their records to hunt for unvaccinated patients
Clinics could be held in nurseries, high street pharmacies, children's centres or any other 'popular places where families visit', he suggests.
The Mail launched a major campaign last week to improve the uptake of the MMR jab and other childhood immunisations. NHS figures show the number of children receiving their measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations has fallen to its lowest level in seven years. In the worst affected areas – which include middle-class London boroughs – a third of five-year-olds have not had both recommended jabs.
The Mail is urging the Government to launch a mass publicity drive to reassure parents the vaccinations are both safe and essential. We also want the NHS to introduce text message reminders or letters informing families of appointments.
Mr Selbie, who has been chief executive of Public Health England since its creation in 2013, writes: 'We have to offer sufficiently flexible appointments at convenient times and places for busy families.' He said GPs and nurses would need help in the task of finding and contacting families. 'This includes reminders by phone and text,' he added.
But his suggestion that GPs take on extra work by tracking down unvaccinated patients is likely to be unpopular. Many surgeries are severely understaffed and struggling to cope with a growing and ageing population.
Public Health England was set up in 2013 to protect the nation's health, prevent serious illnesses and cut rates of obesity and diabetes. Although it has some responsibility for vaccinations, the day-to-day running of the health service – including providing GP appointments – is overseen by NHS England.
Mr Selbie, who started working for the NHS at 17 as a clerical officer in Dundee, points out that vaccinations have saved more lives in the last half century than any other medicine.
Last week the chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens warned that parents were being put off vaccinations by rumours spread at school gates.
Latest NHS figures show 86 per cent of children have had the two recommended MMR jabs by the time they are five. This is the lowest level since 2011/12 and significantly under the World Health's Organisation's 95 per cent target. A 95 per cent rate ensures 'herd immunity' – which leaves a virus struggling to infect anyone and beginning to die out.
The uptake of the MMR jab dropped dramatically in the early-2000s following the publication of a study by Andrew Wakefield. He claimed the vaccine was linked to autism – a claim that has been thoroughly discredited.
However, many parents remain suspicious, their fears exploited by a vocal anti-vaccine lobby which uses social media to spread its harmful messages.
Meanwhile, cases of measles have trebled in the last 12 months while mumps is at its highest level in ten years. Both diseases can lead to potentially fatal complications.
Last night Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs warned: 'Proactively searching out patients will take considerable time and resources, which simply doesn't