Last updated: May 24, 2010 5:42 pm

Doctor who linked MMR to autism is barred

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Supporters of Dr Wakefield outside the GMC in London

Supporters of Dr Wakefield outside the GMC in London on Monday. Some families of children with autism believe it was caused by the MMR vaccine

Andrew Wakefield, the doctor behind discredited claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism, was on Monday barred from practising after serious breaches of medical practice.

The General Medical Council declared that “his name should be erased from the medical register” as “the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients and is in the wider public interest”.

The decision follows an unprecedented 2½-year disciplinary hearing against Dr Wakefield and two colleagues, which in January found him at fault on a variety of charges, including research on children contrary to their best clinical interests – such as the unnecessary use of a spinal tap or lumbar puncture.

The panel ruled that Prof John Walker-Smith, head of the department where Dr Wakefield worked, should also be struck off the medical register.

Dr Wakefield, who was not present, has the right to appeal the decision in the high court. The panel noted that he had made no submissions to mitigate its judgment.

The panel concluded that he had conducted unnecessary medical investigations on children without ethical approval or appropriate qualifications.

The panel concluded that Dr Wakefield had acted dishonestly in accepting funds allocated by the Legal Aid Board for research in litigation concerning alleged vaccine-induced harm, when his research was paid for by the NHS.

He gave one child an experimental product called Transfer Factor, designed as an alternative measles vaccine developed by a company of which he was to be research director and a shareholder, without noting its administration or dose on the medical notes or informing the child’s doctor.

It said he had abused his position of trust as a medical practitioner in taking blood samples from children at his son’s birthday party, paying them £5 each in “callous disregard for the distress and pain” that might have been caused to them.

The panel said he was also “irresponsible and dishonest” in a paper on his work that he wrote for The Lancet, the medical journal, which ultimately issued a full retraction of his article this February.

Prof Simon Murch, who carried out some of the medical procedures under scrutiny, was judged to have “demonstrated errors of judgment” but had acted in good faith and was not sanctioned.

Professor Terence Stephenson, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said :“Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines have all been shown to be safe and UK families are fortunate to have free access to these which is not true of many parts of the world. 

“The false suggestion of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine has done untold damage to the UK vaccination programme. We cannot stress too strongly that all children and young people should have the MMR vaccine. Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that it is safe.”

The five-person panel had spent a record 148 days in session since 2007 on the case, called 36 witnesses and deliberated for 45 days before issuing their ruling, incurring costs of nearly £500,000.

The panel stressed that it did not consider the underlying scientific discussion about any link between the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine and autism, focusing instead on breaches in the way Dr Wakefield conducted his research.

Dr Wakefield’s suggestion of a link between the vaccine and autism contributed to a significant dip in vaccination rates.

Dr Wakefield, who maintains he was acting in the best interests of his patients, is currently in the US, but has stepped down from his role at a specialist clinic.

Several families with autistic children demonstrated outside the Council on Monday, maintaining their view that his actions were appropriate.

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