Muslim girls will be excluded from a national vaccination scheme against cervical cancer because it clashes with the holy month of Ramadan, religious leaders are warning.

The HPV immunisation programme launches in England today but there are concerns that Muslim girls will be unable to have their vaccinations during the festival for religious reasons.

School nurses will vaccinate 12 to 13-year-olds this month, followed by a second dose in October and a third in May.

Some primary care trusts are arranging alternative dates but it is feared that PCTs in areas where Muslims make up around a third of those eligible for the injection will still struggle to hit local targets.

Lancashire Council of Mosques has sent a letter to chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson outlining its concerns.

Chair Abdul Hamid Qureshi wrote: "We would like to know what provision, if any, will be made to ensure a high uptake in the Muslim community, given there is already huge suspicion of the state."

Vaccination schedule

Imran Choudhury, specialist public health registrar at Blackburn with Darwen PCT, said vaccination sessions at predominantly Muslim schools would start after Ramadan.

Luton PCT assistant public health director Kelly O'Neill said the vaccination programme would be a "struggle".

Starting the scheme in September led to a higher uptake and would not clash with exam periods, but schools with the highest proportions of Muslim girls would be treated outside the national time-table, she said.

Debra Lapthorne, sexual health lead at the Association of Directors of Public Health, said leading Islamic jurists and scholars approved of vaccinations during Ramadan.

The DH was unable to provide a race equality impact assessment relating to the policy when requested by HSJ.