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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
MMR doctor 'to face GMC charges'
Dr Andrew Wakefield
Mr Wakefield stands by his findings
The doctor who first suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism is to be charged with serious professional misconduct, it is reported.

The Independent newspaper reports that the General Medical Council will accuse Mr Andrew Wakefield of carrying out "inadequately founded" research.

Vaccination rates fell sharply after Dr Wakefield questioned the safety of MMR, raising fears of a measles epidemic.

His initial Lancet paper has since been disowned by the journal.

April-June 1995: 92.5%
January-June 2003: 78.9%
April-June 2005: 83.0%
Rate required to protect community: 95%
Percentage uptake in children aged two, England and Wales

The editor admitted he would not have published the 1998 paper if he had known about what he called a "fatal conflict of interest".

Mr Wakefield received funding to see if there was any evidence to support possible legal action by a group of parents who claimed their children were damaged by the vaccine. Some children were involved in both studies.

In addition ten doctors who co-authored the paper issued a statement in 2004 arguing there was insufficient evidence to draw the conclusion that the MMR vaccine was not safe.

The main thrust of the paper was that MMR was linked not only to autism, but also to the bowel disorder Crohn's disease. Small-scale US research has subsequently produced similar findings.

No corroboration

But a host of major studies has since failed to find any evidence of a link between MMR and autism.

However, the uptake rate for MMR - a triple jab which protects against measles, mumps and rubella - slumped in the wake of the controversy.

The rate has since picked up again, but remains low in some areas of the country, most notably London.

The number of confirmed measles cases in England and Wales rose from 56 in 1998 to 438 in 2003, although the provisional figure for 2005 was back down to 77.

The Independent reports that Mr Wakefield will face four charges: that he published inadequately founded research, failed to obtain ethical committee approval for the work, obtained funding for it improperly, and subjected children to "unnecessary and invasive investigations".

The paper says that detailed charges are being formulated by the GMC's lawyers, and will be presented in the autumn, with a public hearing expected next year.

If found guilty, Mr Wakefield could be struck off the medical register.

Mr Wakefield carried out his initial study while working at London's Royal Free Hospital.

He has since moved to the US.

A General Medical Council spokesperson refused to confirm details, but said: "An investigation is ongoing."

She said the council had been investigating Mr Wakefield since The Lancet issued its retraction in 2004.

She added that any charges against him might "evolve" before they were formally presented.

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