MMR-row doctor 'abused trust'
Published 29/01/2010 | 05:00
THE doctor at the centre of the MMR-vaccine row "showed a callous disregard" for the suffering of children and subjected some to unnecessary tests, the British General Medical Council (GMC) ruled yesterday.
It found that Dr Andrew Wakefield "abused his position of trust" as he researched a possible link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, bowel disease and autism.
He also brought the medical profession "into disrepute", it said, by taking blood samples from children at his son's birthday party in return for £5 payments.
The doctor, who was not at the hearing but spoke outside the GMC offices after the ruling, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the outcome.
He and two colleagues involved in the research, Professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, now face being struck off if they are found guilty of serious professional misconduct at a later date.
Dr Wakefield, who is now based in the US, said: "The allegations against me and my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust and I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion.
"It remains for me to thank the parents, whose commitment and loyalty have been extraordinary. I want to reassure them that science will continue in earnest."
Health experts said they hoped the ruling would now boost rates of MMR vaccination, which are currently below the level needed for widespread immunity.
This week, the HSE here also called upon parents to ensure that their children have received the MMR vaccine as there has been a large increase in the number of measles cases reported in Ireland.
The chairman of the GMC panel, Dr Surendra Kumar, was heckled by distraught parents who support Dr Wakefield as he delivered the verdicts.
One woman accused the GMC of being a "kangaroo court" while another supporter shouted: "This is a set-up."
The GMC ruled that Dr Wakefield had "failed in his duties as a responsible consultant" and had gone against the interests of children in his care.
It also found that he had acted dishonestly and was misleading and irresponsible in the way he described a study on children which was published in The Lancet medical journal in 1998. The research sparked a massive drop in the number of children given the triple jab.
The GMC ruled that Dr Wakefield, whose contract prevented him from carrying out clinical research on youngsters, had not acted in the children's best clinical interests.
He ordered some youngsters to undergo unnecessary colonoscopies, lumbar punctures (spinal taps), barium meals, blood and urine tests and brain scans. Some of the tests were carried out by Profs Walker-Smith and Murch.
Dr Wakefield was an honorary consultant in experimental gastroenterology at London's Royal Free Hospital at the time of his research.
A decision on serious professional misconduct and any sanctions are not expected for a matter of months.
The GMC hearing has sat for 148 days over two-and-a-half years at a reported cost of more than £1m.
Dr Shona Hilton of the Medical Research Council, said: "We need to continue rebuilding trust with parents that MMR vaccination is safe and ensure that those parents caring for children with autism do not blame themselves."