Doctor linked to drug detox death 'danger to the public'
A DOCTOR was struck off by Britain's General Medical Council yesterday for his role in the death of an Irishman who, having survived an IRA bombing in London in 1996, died some months later while undergoing a controversial heroin detoxification programme.
Consultant anaesthetist Gary Gerson (69) who charged Dubliner Brendan Woolhead £4,700(stg) for the experimental treatment, was branded "a danger to the public".
The 34-year-old telephone technician, who not only suffered horrific head injuries in the Aldwych bus bombing but was also wrongly named in the media as the bomber, died under general anaesthetic. He had been given a cocktail of 12 drugs as part of the treatment in the London Welbeck Centre.
The council was told there had been no proper assessment of Mr Woolhead's medical condition and that Dr Gerson had failed to find out that his patient had suffered a head injury in the February 1996 bombing.
Yesterday the GMC said it was "deeply disturbed" by the doctor's conduct. "It is clear that in this case Dr Gerson was motivated primarily by commercial gain and as a result paid scant attention to the welfare of his patient," said the chairman.
The ultra rapid opiate detoxification (UROD) treatment was developed in the early 1990s by a Spanish doctor in an attempt to prevent addicts suffering cold turkey. It was never clinically tested in trials and it did not receive the approval of the medical profession.
Dr Gerson was contracted to find 600 patients a year at a minimum charge of £1,000 and was given $50,000 to market the treatment.
Ironically, Mr Woolhead, a native of Clancy Road, Finglas who was living in Swords with his partner and child at the time of his death, would have been unable to afford the treatment without the substantial sums, reported to total £200,000, paid out by newspapers which pointed the finger at him following the Aldwych bombing.
The hearing heard that this money initially escalated his addiction.
Mr Woolhead, a heroin addict since the age of 21, was admitted to the hospital on October 1, 1996 for detox the next day and was given a 20-minute interview by a doctor not qualified to do the necessary psychological assessment.
The GMC heard that he was allowed out of the clinic the night before the treatment, allowing him the opportunity to inject himself.
He returned the next day for the treatment and in the early hours of October 3 he suffered a seizure and cardiac arrest.
However, there was no emergency resuscitation equipment available.
Mr Woolhead died despite the efforts of an ambulance crew called to the scene.
Dr Gerson who did not attend the hearing was found guilty of serious professional misconduct.
After the bombing and the subsequent accusations, Mr Woolhead said he was "the unluckiest man in the world".
One of his brothers lived adjacent to the World Trade Centre and was recently interviewed by RTE about the devastation.