Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 11:16 UK

MMR doctor struck from register

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

MMR vaccine row doctor defends investigation

The doctor who first suggested a link between MMR vaccinations and autism is to be struck off the medical register.

The General Medical Council found Dr Andrew Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct over the way he carried out his controversial research.

It follows a GMC ruling earlier this year that he had acted unethically.

Dr Wakefield, who is now based in the US, has consistently claimed the allegations are unfair. He now says he will appeal against the verdict.

His 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited.

The GMC ruled in January Dr Wakefield had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in conducting his research, but under its procedures the sanctions are made at a later date.

The case did not investigate whether Dr Wakefield's findings were right or wrong, instead it focused on the methods of research.

The panel concluded that it is the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients and is in the wider public interest
Dr Surendra Kumar
Panel chairman

During the two-and-a-half-year case, the longest in GMC history, he was accused of carrying out invasive tests on vulnerable children which were against their best interests.

The GMC also said Dr Wakefield, who was working at London's Royal Free Hospital as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or relevant qualifications for such tests.

And the panel hearing the case took exception with the way he gathered blood samples. Dr Wakefield paid children £5 for the samples at his son's birthday party.

It also said Dr Wakefield should have disclosed the fact that he had been paid to advise solicitors acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR.

Serious misconduct

In making the verdict on the sanctions, Dr Surendra Kumar, the panel's chairman, said Dr Wakefield had "brought the medical profession into disrepute" and his behaviour constituted "multiple separate instances of serious professional misconduct".

In total, he was found guilty of more than 30 charges.

Dr Kumar also explained the reasoning for striking Dr Wakefield off.

"The panel concluded that it is the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients and is in the wider public interest, including the maintenance of public trust and confidence in the profession, and is proportionate to the serious and wide-ranging findings made against him."

Dr Wakefield has consistently claimed the allegations against him were "unfounded and unjust".

As the GMC announced its sanctions, Dr Wakefield said: "Efforts to discredit and silence me through the GMC process have provided a screen to shield the government from exposure on the MMR vaccine scandal."

Two of his former colleagues at the Royal Free were also ruled to have broken guidelines.

Professor John Walker-Smith and Professor Simon Murch both helped Dr Wakefield carry out the research.

Professor Walker-Smith, who is 73 and has been retired for the past 10 years, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct and struck off the register. Professor Murch was found not guilty of serious professional misconduct despite there not being ethical approval for the research.

In explaining this decision, Dr Kumar said he took into account the fact that Professor Murch stopped carrying out tests on children for the study because he did not think they were necessary.

Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the scare over the vaccine had done "untold damage to the UK vaccination programme".

"We cannot stress too strongly that all children and young people should have the MMR vaccine."

The Department of Health reiterated this. A spokesman said: "The safety of MMR has been endorsed through numerous studies in many countries."


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