Intended for healthcare professionals


Hepatitis B immunisation in renal units in the United Kingdom: questionnaire study

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 13 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:877
  1. Sunanda Ray, specialist registrar in public healtha,
  2. Terry Samuel, specialist registrarb,
  3. Jeremy Hawker, regional epidemiologista,
  4. Steve Smith, consultant (smiths{at}
  1. a Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham B9 5SS
  2. b Renal Unit, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital
  1. Correspondence to: Dr S Smith, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, Bordesley Green East, Birmingham B9 5ST
  • Accepted 29 August 2001

Despite guidance from the Department of Health and the Renal Association that dialysis patients should be offered prophylaxis against hepatitis B by immunisation, surveys have shown that 95% of renal units in 1994 and 49% in 1995 were not routinely offering immunisation to any patient groups with chronic renal failure.14 We aimed to determine whether provision of hepatitis B immunisation had improved after publication of the 1996 Department of Health guidelines and to identify barriers to implementation of existing guidelines.1

Participants, methods, and results

We sent a postal questionnaire, piloted in five renal units, to the clinical directors of all 87 main UK renal units and satellites. The questionnaire (available on covered hepatitis B immunisation in patients with chronic renal failure, including those receiving renal replacement therapy; the number of cases of acute hepatitis B infection between 1997 and 1999; and reasons why patients might not be vaccinated.

Seventy eight (90%) units responded. Units in two teaching and four district general hospitals plus three satellites did not respond, despite reminders. Twelve units (15%) reported at least one incident of hepatitis B seroconversion in a dialysis patient. Twenty three units (29%) did not immunise any patient groups. A further six units offered immunisation only to patients planning treatment in hepatitis B endemic areas outside the United Kingdom.

Completeness of hepatitis B immunisation in dialysis patients was not known in 27 units (35%), less than 25% in 17 units (22%), 25-75% in 13 units (17%), and over 75% in 20 units (26%). Of the 55 units that provided immunisation, 70% gave the recommended higher dose of 40 μg whereas 30% gave the previously recommended dose of 20 μg. Most (72%) used the earlier schedule of doses at 0, 1, and 6 months instead of the recommended accelerated schedule of 0, 1, 2, and 12 months. The table lists the reasons why patients are not routinely immunised.

Reasons given by 78 renal units as to why dialysis patients are not routinely vaccinated for hepatitis B before starting dialysis and during dialysis. Values are numbers (percentages) of units

View this table:

Thirty six units (46%) followed the Renal Association's recommendations on hepatitis B immunisation of patients with chronic renal failure; 42 did not. Fourteen units had developed their own policies. Eleven units (14%) mentioned alternative guidance on immunisation, including the Department of Health's “green book” on infectious diseases,1 the revised Rosenheim report (the draft Department of Health's policy in development),4 and the British National Formulary.

One unit feared that staff might become less careful with universal precautions if all patients were immunised. Two units thought that the heavy workload produced little benefit. One unit abandoned an immunisation programme it had started after a seroconversion incident in 1996, owing to logistical difficulties. Two units mentioned difficulties in tracking patients who had been referred to general practice; one unit reverted to immunisation through dialysis services rather than primary care after seroconversion of a patient who had been referred. Six units mentioned costs and funding as barriers. One unit thought our survey would encourage provision of funding.


Although the rate of hepatitis B immunisation of patients with chronic renal failure in the United Kingdom has improved in recent years, most renal units still fail to follow current guidance. Partial coverage is the norm, and outmoded regimens are still used. The shared care management of immunisation may be one solution, although this requires good collaboration between primary and specialist care. Strategies that may improve collaborative care are inclusion of immunisation in service agreements, definition of responsibilities for initiation of immunisation, follow up and evaluation of response, payment to general practitioners, and regular audit and shared feedback. The efficacy of the hepatitis B vaccine in end stage renal disease needs investigation to encourage its use in dialysis patients.


We thank all UK renal units who completed the study questionnaire and the staff at the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital.

Contributors: SS and JH had the original idea for this study. SR designed the study questionnaire and played a key part in data collection, data documentation, and analysis. TS participated in the study design, data collection, and analysis. SR and TS jointly wrote the paper. SS and JH edited the paper. SS will act as guarantor for the paper.


  • Funding None.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Embedded ImageThe questionnaire appears on


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