The public consultation process has its place.
It is a useful tool to gauge the mood of the public and take guidance from ordinary citizens and stakeholders, and it has been used successfully to inform government policy in a variety of areas.
But it also has its limits. The Health Information and Quality Authority has just stretched those limits by announcing a public consultation process focused on determining whether the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme should be extended to boys.
The vaccine is currently only offered to girls aged 12-13 and in their first year of secondary school, as HPV is most commonly known as the cause of cervical cancer.
But other countries, like the US and Canada, give it to boys, because it can also be responsible for anal and penile cancers and oropharyngeal cancers, which affect the head, neck and throat.
Hiqa’s assessment found vaccination of both sexes would have major health benefits.
According to Dr Máirín Ryan, director of health technology assessment, extending the vaccine to boys “would reduce HPV-related disease in both males and females in Ireland, improving patient-related outcomes and reducing mortality from HPV-related cancers”.
In other words, it would save lives among both sexes. If that is so, the corrollorary must be that any delay in extending the vaccine to boys will cost lives. Best, then, to forget any long, draw-out public consultation and get on with it.