Dr Andrew Wakefield faces allegations of serious professional misconduct in London|
LONDON, UK: Three doctors who carried out the research which sparked controversy over the safety of the triple MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine will face a catalogue of allegations of serious professional misconduct this month.
The British watchdog body, the General Medical Council (GMC), has confirmed that Dr Andrew Wakefield will be summoned for a disciplinary hearing on July 16. Two former colleagues, Professor John Walker-Smith and Professor Simon Murch, will face a number of charges at the same time.
The inquiry - which takes place in London and is expected to last three months - will centre on a study published in The Lancet medical journal in 1998, which found a connection between the MMR jab with autism and bowel disease. Dr Wakefield subsequently recommended the use of single vaccines.
Last week, a detailed list of charges against the three was published for the first time by the GMC. The allegations include that they undertook research between 1996-1998 without proper ethical approval. They are also accused of allowing investigations such as colonoscopies and lumbar punctures to be carried out on children, against the patients' interests.
Dr Wakefield and Dr Walker-Smith are said to have acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" by failing to disclose in the Lancet study the method by which they had recruited patients for the research, which it is claimed resulted in misleading information in the paper. They also face charges relating to giving a treatment - which is not identified by the GMC - to a child for experimental reasons, without checking its safety first. Dr Murch faces no such charges.
Dr Wakefield alone faces several other charges. It is alleged he was involved in advising solicitors acting for people alleged to have been harmed by the MMR vaccine and failed to disclose to the hospital ethics committee that he had received funding from the Legal Aid Board for the study. It is alleged that he ordered investigations on some children without having relevant paediatric qualifications.
He is also charged with failing to disclose his involvement in MMR litigation to the editor of The Lancet. And he is accused of acting unethically and abusing his position of trust by taking blood from children at a birthday party to use for research purposes.
The statement from the GMC says that it will investigate the allegation to establish the doctors' fitness to practisae, but adds: "The GMC does not regard its remit as extending to arbitrating between competing scientific theories generated in the course of medical research."
Dr Wakefield, Dr Walker-Smith and Dr Murch were employed at the Royal Free Hospital in London at the time of the research, but all have since left. Although Dr Murch was involved in the original study, he has consistently stated there is no proven link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
In the health scare that followed the publication of the study, the number of two-year-olds vaccinated with the MMR jab in Scotland dropped from 94 per cent in 1995 to 86 per cent in 2003. Latest figures show that it has now risen to just over 92 per cent, although that is still short of the coverage target of 95 per cent.
Parents of autistic children have pledged to demonstrate outside the hearing to show their support of the doctors.
An on-line petition which demandsthat the government and health organisations "stop investigating the doctors and start investigating the patients" has now collected more than 7,000 signatures.
(Source: Sunday Herald, July 8, 2007)