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The Rouse letter: how Wakefield was almost caught in 1998

19 Oct

For those who have followed the story of Andrew Wakefield, the fact that he had multiple conflicts of interest is not news. The subjects in his now retracted 1998 paper in The Lancet were far from a random sample of autistics. They were even far from a random sample of autistics with GI problems. Brian Deer has made this very clear. The GMC ruled that it is clear that Andrew Wakefield was fully aware of the biased nature of these children.

But, Brian Deer was not the first to catch on. A letter to the Lancet in May 1998, a few short months after the now retracted Wakefield paper was published, a letter to the editor was published. It was by a Mr. Rouse, a public heath professional:

“Sir – After reading Andrew Wakefield and colleagues’ article I did a simple internet search and quickly found the Society for the Autistically Handicapped. I downloaded a 48 page fact sheet produced for the Society by Dawbarns, a firm of solicitors in King’s Lynn.

It seems likely then that some of the children investigated by Wakefield et al came to attention because of the activities of this Society and information from parents referred in this way would suffer from recall bias. It is a pity that Wakefield et al do not identify the manner in which the 12 children investigated were referred (e.g. from local GPs, self-referral via parents, or secondary/tertiary or international referral). Furthermore, if some children were referred directly or indirectly because of the activities of the Society for the Autistically Handicapped, Wakefield should have declared his co-operation with that organisation.”

It was so close to exposing the truth, but there would be another 6 years before Brian Deer would reopen the question and show that Andrew Wakefield did indeed have serious conflicts of interests (as well as many ethical failings) in the Lancet paper.

Mr. Rouse stressed the “Society for the Autistically Handicapped”, which Mr. Wakefield was able to claim no association with. Here, read the Wakefield response for yourself. The first two paragraphs refer to other letters to the Lancet, I am only showing the response to the Rouse letter:

A Rouse suggests that litigation bias might exist by virtue of information that he has downloaded from the Internet, from the Society for the Autistically Handicapped. Only one author (AJW) has agreed to help evaluate a small number of these children on behalf of the Legal Aid Board. These children have all been seen expressly on the basis that they were referred through the normal channels (eg, from general practitioner, child psychiatrist, or community paediatrician) on the merits of their symptoms. AJW had never heard of the Society for the Autistically Handicapped and no fact sheet has been provided for them to distribute to interested parties. The only fact sheet that we have produced is for general practitioners, which describes the background and protocol for investigation of children with autism and gastrointestinal symptoms. Finally all those children referred to us (including the 53 who have been investigated already and those on a waiting list that extends into 1999) have come through the formal channels described above. No conflict of interest exists.

Much discussion went into this exchange. There even appears to be two versions of the Rouse letter.

Mr. Wakefield argued that his response was factually correct. That he responded to some specific questions raised by the Rouse letter. I am reminded of the courtroom oath in the United States, that one must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Mr. Wakefield seems to avoid “the whole truth” here and elsewhere.

Here is what the prosecution had to say about Mr. Wakefield’s response:

So even at that stage, we suggest that Dr Wakefield failed to set out in straightforward terms the nature of his involvement with the litigation and the receipt of funding, because he says he has never heard of the Society for the Autistically Handicapped – well, fair enough – but he does not state that he had heard of, and had been working for more than two years with, Dawbarns, who were the solicitors in the MMR litigation, as an expert for them. That is despite the fact that he is responding to an allegation which he himself understood to be alleging litigation bias.

Secondly, he says that he “has agreed to help evaluate a small number of these children on behalf of the Legal Aid Board”, but he makes no reference to the fact that they had funded his research to the tune of £25,000 at that stage, with more anticipated to come.

Dr Wakefield’s explanation for that, you will not be surprised to hear, is that he was responding to specific points only. It is our submission that it is a hallmark of his evidence that he falls back on this kind of terminological or grammatical analysis of allegations or questions which have been put to him in an attempt to obscure his own failure to respond openly and honestly and then he places the burden on others to pin him down and to ask for what he actually describes as “further and better particulars”. So he says that is what should be done if people want straightforward answers, in effect.

It is worth seeing how Mr. Wakefield’s colleagues thought of the Rouse letter. In summarizing the defense for Prof. Walker-Smith (one of the Wakefield team who was also sanctioned by the GMC), his attorney noted

(a) At the time that the Lancet children were investigated at the Royal Free, Professor Walker-Smith had no knowledge of Dr Wakefield’s dealings with the Legal Aid Board.

(b) Some time around the beginning of 1997, Professor Walker-Smith became aware that Dr Wakefield was acting as an expert on behalf of a number of children in a group action concerning MMR. Professor Walker-Smith did not want to have any involvement in actual or potential litigation.

(c) Professor Walker-Smith was not aware of the litigation status of the Lancet children at the time that the Lancet paper was written.

(d) It was not until the Rouse correspondence in the Lancet in 1998 that Professor Walker-Smith became aware that Dr Wakefield had agreed to “evaluate a small number of these children on behalf of the Legal Aid Board”. This was after the Lancet paper had been published.

(e) It was not until Mr Deer contacted him many years later that he was informed about a sum of money that had allegedly been paid to Dr Wakefield by the Legal Aid Board.

(f) It was not until 2004 that Professor Walker-Smith learned the number of Lancet children that were part of the “class action” in which Dr Wakefield was involved.

There is a lot in that statement of interest, but for this discussion I will focus on the statement that Mr. Wakefield did not disclose to his colleagues that some of the children he was working were involved with the Legal Aid Board. They learned about it from the Rouse letter. Why wasn’t Mr. Wakefield transparent even with his own colleagues?

Back to the Wakefield response, I think that it is a stretch to say that “no conflict of interest exists” or that the children came through formal channels. This ignores the fact that Mr. Wakefield played an active part in recruiting children into the study. This ignores the fact that Mr. Wakefield was aware that there indeed was a litigation bias involved in both himself and many of the study subjects.

As long as we are looking at the letters to the Lancet, here is one by Barbara Loe Fisher, of the self-named National Vaccine Information Center (in reference to a letter to the Lancet by members of the CDC):

“The pre-emptive strike by US vaccine policymakers on Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues’ investigation into the immunopathology of children with chronic enterocolitis and regressive developmental disorder brings into sharp relief the inappropriate intervention of politics into what should be an apolitical scientific examination.”

What is brought “into sharp relief” was that Mr. Wakefield’s study was not an “apolitical scientific examination”. Rather it was a litigation funded and driven project where crucial facts were hidden from the public. A true vaccine safety organization, which Ms. Fisher’s NVIC is not, would now be condemning Mr. Wakefield’s manipulation of the story. Instead, she gives him awards.

The Rouse letter shows that Mr. Wakefield failed in his duty to explain the details of his research to the public, and to his own colleagues. From where I sit, it also looks as though the Lancet failed to ask the direct questions that should have been raised at this point. They allowed Mr. Wakefield to avoid the sticky questions raised by the fact that Mr. Wakefield was involved in the MMR litigation.

Of course it is easy in hindsight to see the patterns. At the time, Mr. Wakefield was a highly respected researcher and much of what we now know was hidden. But it is very frustrating to think that the story could have been (should have been) exposed so quickly after the publication of the Lancet paper.

Andrew Wakefield’s vaccine patent

11 Oct

I’m reading through the transcripts from the General Medical Council Hearing on Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues at the Royal Free Hospital. It is long. Very long. Each day runs tens of pages (day 31 is 79 pages alone). Even beyond the bulk of the proceeding I find it difficult reading. I find it very difficult to read about the ethical lapses committed in the name of care of disabled children. Because of that, I quickly moved to a topic I have already written about and one that is less painful to discuss: the patent application Mr. Wakefield submitted on his “transfer factor”.

A thorough discussion of the patent history can be found on Brian Deer’s website. Brian Deer is the journalist who uncovered much of what the GMC was later to pronounce as ethical violations.

The patent is very clear in that it covers both the use of the transfer factor as a therapeutic agent and as a prophylaxis. In other words, Mr. Wakefield patented a treatment and a vaccine. Even though this is painfully clear, Mr. Wakefield has continually denied that the invention was a vaccine.

Day 31 of the hearing went into great detail about the patent. I was surprised to read (or had forgotten had I read before) that Mr. Wakefield applied for the patent without his hospital’s knowledge. This is very odd since the Royal Free was named as the applicant.

Below is a section from a memo, dated March 10, 1998 from Ruth Bishop to Cengiz Altan Tarhah, of University College, London (of which the Royal Free Hospital is a part).

Last summer, Andy Wakefield wrote to the School describing a patent application which he had personally filed along with Neuroimmuno Therapeutics Research Foundation (NIT). This was filed without the School’s knowledge, although in the name of the School. This application concerns the ‘transfer factor’ and Mr Wakefield asked if the School would be prepared to take on the prosecution and costs – he was (and is) meeting these himself.

Applying for a patent without approval from his institution is amazingly foolish. Aside from the obvious chutzpah, it basically invalidates the patent. For most people this would be a remarkable career mistake. While is is serious, it pales in comparison to the many other ethics violations that the GMC found Mr. Wakefield guilty of.

Let’s take a closer look at the question of whether it was Mr. Wakefield’s intent to use the invention, the “transfer factor”, as a vaccine. Mr. Wakefield submitted a business plan whereby he and the father of child 10 (the 10th child in the Lancet study) would develop the transfer factors.

In parallel with the clinical trial the company will develop a clinical diagnostic for the presence of the measles virus. It is estimated that the market for this diagnostic is about £4,000,000 per annum in the UK alone. The company will also investigate the potential of transfer factors as vaccine alternatives. An animal model trial of the value of measles specific transfer factor in preventing inflammatory bowel disease will begin upon securing funding.

Emphasis added.

Recally, Mr. Wakefield contended that the MMR was causing inflammatory bowel disease. He had plans to test his transfer factor to prevent IBD, not just to treat it.

It was a Vaccine.

Should that language be vague enough for some to still claim Mr. Wakefield didn’t intend on developing a vaccine. Here is a section from the “Strategy and Objectives” section of the business plan:

[Immunospecifics] is at present no more than a concept, but one with a unique opportunity. The strategic goal for the venture will be to achieve full regulatory approval for the use of antigen (infectious agent) specific transfer factors in a variety of clinical conditions where existing treatment regimes are either non-existent or have limited effectiveness. This strategy will permit the company to establish a clear technical and medical lead in this area with a resulting dominant market share. Paralleling the use of [transfer factors] as therapeutics will be a research programme aimed at demonstrating the value of [transfer factor] as a vaccine.

Emphasis added.

Again–a vaccine in addition to a therapy.

It was a vaccine.

A sub-heading of “Strategy and Objectives” reads: Establish the potential of the high specific active preparations as a potential measles vaccine. It just doesn’t get much clearer than that.

This study will be done in conjunction with ‘Immuno’ a subsidiary of Baxter Health Care, in Austria using simian model systems. The efficacy of the [transfer factor] will be assessed by its ability to prevent measles specific IBD during challenge experiments. ‘Immuno’ have agreed to undertake the preliminary work with the [Royal Free Hospital] at no cost, although Immuno’s contribution is estimated to be of the order of £100,000. If successful this concept will be developed further in collaboration with a major pharmaceutical company, such as Glaxo Wellcome’s Jenner Institute. The full relationship between ISB and Immuno needs to be resolved.”

They planned to develop this with someone like Glaxo Wellcome’s Jenner Institute. That would be a vaccine research group (Jenner being the inventor of the first vaccine, for smallpox, in the 18th century).

Further, the business plan included objectives:

“Medium term objectives for the venture will be: 1) to take the purified and characterised measles specific [transfer factor] through formal product registration by undertaking phase II and phase III clinical trials; 2) establish the most appropriate route for the commercial development of the product; 3) develop the potential for use of [transfer factors] as vaccine replacements; 4) introduce new anti-infectious agents TFs to the company’s product development portfolio and take them through to formal product registration.”

Emphasis added.

Vaccine replacements. Replacements. Not “we are using the name vaccine to mean a therapy”, but a replacement.

I know I’ve given the evidence a number of times in this post, but I just can’t understand why Mr. Wakefield even tries to deny his intent to develop a vaccine in the true sense of the word.

It was difficult to understand how people believed Mr. Wakefield’s story before. I will be amazed (but not surprised) that they continue to do so.

Just in case you missed it, here is one of the goals for Mr. Wakefield’s proposed company: “Establish the potential of the high specific active preparations as a potential measles vaccine”

The Panel has determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register

24 May

The following is taken from a GMC press release.

This case is being considered by a Fitness to Practise Panel applying the General Medical Council’s Preliminary Proceedings Committee and Professional Conduct Committee (Procedure) Rules 1988

Date: 24 May 2010

Dr Andrew Jeremy WAKEFIELD

Determination on Serious Professional Misconduct (SPM) and sanction:

The Panel has already given its findings on the facts and its reasons for determining that the facts as found proved could amount to serious professional misconduct.

It then went on to consider and determine whether, under Rule 29(1) of the General Medical Council Preliminary Proceedings Committee and Professional Conduct Committee (Procedure) Rules Order of Council 1988, the facts as admitted or found proved do amount to serious professional misconduct and if so, what, if any sanction it should impose. It has accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice in full as to the approach to be taken in this case, and has looked at each doctors’ case separately but, when considering whether Dr Wakefield is guilty of serious professional misconduct, has looked at the heads of charge found proved against him as a whole. It has not confined its consideration to the heads of charge; it has also had regard to the evidence that has been adduced and the submissions made by Ms Smith on behalf of the General Medical Council. On behalf of Dr Wakefield, no evidence has been adduced and no arguments or pleas in mitigation have been addressed to the Panel at this stage of the proceedings. In fact Mr Coonan specifically submitted:

“……we call no evidence and we make no substantive submissions on behalf of Dr Wakefield at this stage.” “…I am instructed to make no further observations in this case”.

Nevertheless, the Panel considered the totality of the evidence in Dr Wakefield’s case including the reference dated 27 October 1995, from Professor Leon Fine, the then Head of the Department of Medicine at the Royal Free Hospital, when reaching its decision at this stage, having been asked to consider that as part of Mr Coonan’s submissions at Stage 1.

Serious professional misconduct has no specific definition but in Roylance v General Medical Council [1999] Lloyd’s Rep. Med. 139 at 149 Lord Clyde, in giving the reasons of the Privy Council, said:

“Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required by a medical practitioner in the particular circumstances…”

Lord Clyde went on to say:

“The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession of medicine. Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”

The Panel has acted as an independent and impartial tribunal and exercised its own judgement on these matters. It has borne in mind the relevant GMC guidance at the time, namely the 1995 Good Medical Practice and, in so far as the findings relate to events after 1998, the 1998 Good Medical Practice. It has considered what has been adduced and submitted on behalf of the doctors about the standards and procedures which were prevalent at that time.

In considering Dr Wakefield’s case, the Panel has also taken into account the passage of time before these matters were brought before it and the length of time this case has taken. It noted that the multiple sittings were for a variety of reasons including professional commitments of the Panel and requests from Counsel for reasons such as illnesses, accidents, unavailability of witnesses and preparation time.

The Panel has noted Dr Wakefield’s previous good character and taken into account everything it has heard including his qualifications, experience and standing within the profession, with patients and the parents of patients.

The Panel considered the conduct of Dr Wakefield whilst he was registered as a medical practitioner and employed by the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in 1996 and 1997, initially as a Senior Lecturer in the Departments of Medicine and Histopathology. Later, from 1 May 1997 he was a Reader in Experimental Gastroenterology and an Honorary Consultant in Experimental Gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital.

The Panel has already found proved that Dr Wakefield’s Honorary Consultant appointment was subject to a stipulation that he would not have any involvement in the clinical management of patients. On five occasions (child 2, 4, 5, 12 and 7) he ordered investigations on children, when he had no paediatric qualifications, and in contravention of the limitations on his appointment. The Panel considered this alone constituted a breach of trust of patients and employers alike.

In February 1996 Dr Wakefield agreed to act as an expert in respect of MMR litigation. In relation to the Legal Aid Board (LAB), the Panel found that Dr Wakefield accepted monies totalling £50,000 procured through Mr Barr, the Claimants’ solicitor to pursue research. A costing proposal had been submitted by Mr Barr to the LAB containing detailed information provided by Dr Wakefield, and Dr Wakefield ought to have realised that Mr Barr would submit it to the LAB.

The costing proposal set out costs in respect of the investigation of five children. It covered each child’s four-night stay in hospital with colonoscopy, MRI and evoked potential studies. Dr Wakefield admitted that the funding subsequently provided by the Legal Aid Board had not been needed for these items because these costs were borne by the National Health Service as the patients were being admitted as NHS patients.

The Panel found that Dr Wakefield had a duty to disclose this information to the Legal Aid Board via Mr Barr. It was dishonest and misleading of him not to have done so. The Panel concluded that his intention to mislead the Legal Aid Board was sufficient on its own to amount to serious professional misconduct.

The Panel also found that in respect of £25,000 of LAB monies, Dr Wakefield caused or permitted it to be used for purposes other than those for which he said it was needed and for which it had been granted. In doing so he was in breach of his duties in relation to the managing of, and accounting for, funds.

In September 1996 Dr Wakefield made an application to the Ethical Practices Sub-Committee of the Royal Free Hospital (Ethics Committee) seeking approval for a research project involving 25 children. This was approved by the sub-Committee as Project 172-96. He named himself as one of the three Responsible Consultants, thereby taking on the shared responsibility for the information given in support of his application; for ensuring that only children meeting the inclusion criteria would be admitted to the study; that conditions attached to the Ethics Committee approval would be complied with; and that children would be treated in accordance with the terms of the approval given.

In respect of Research and Ethics Committee approval, the Panel had regard to the particular ethical guiding principles with regard to conducting research on children. It rejected Dr Wakefield’s overall contention that Project 172-96 was never undertaken; that all the investigations carried out on the children were clinically indicated and that the research elements of the project were covered by another Ethics Committee approval.

The Panel concluded that the programme of investigations that these children were subjected to was part of Project 172-96. It further determined that the conditions for approval and the inclusion criteria for that project were not complied with. The Ethics Committee’s reliance on the probity of Dr Wakefield as a Responsible Consultant was not met.

With regard to nine of the eleven children (2,1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 5,12 and 8) considered by the Panel, it determined that Dr Wakefield caused research to be undertaken on them without Ethics Committee approval and thus without the ethical constraints that safeguard research. Ethical constraints are there for the protection both of research subjects and for the reassurance of the public and are crucial to public trust in research medicine. It was in the context of this research project that the Panel found that Dr Wakefield caused three of these young and vulnerable children, (nos. 3, 9 and 12) to undergo the invasive procedure of lumbar puncture when such investigation was for research purposes and was not clinically indicated. This action was contrary to his representation to the Ethics Committee that all the procedures were clinically indicated. In nine of the eleven children (2,1, 3, 4, 9, 5,12, 8 and 7) the Panel has found that Dr Wakefield acted contrary to the clinical interests of each child. The Panel is profoundly concerned that Dr Wakefield repeatedly breached fundamental principles of research medicine. It concluded that his actions in this area alone were sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct.

The results of the research project were written up as an early report in the Lancet in February 1998. Dr Wakefield as a senior author undertook the drafting of the Lancet paper and wrote its final version. The reporting in that paper of a temporal link between gastrointestinal disease, developmental regression and the MMR vaccination had major public health implications and Dr Wakefield admitted that he knew it would attract intense public and media interest. The potential implications were therefore clear to him, as demonstrated in his correspondence with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and reports which had already appeared in the medical press. In the circumstances, Dr Wakefield had a clear and compelling duty to ensure that the factual information contained in the paper was true and accurate and he failed in this duty.

The children described in the Lancet paper were admitted for research purposes under a programme of investigations for Project 172-96 and the purpose of the project was to investigate the postulated new syndrome following vaccination. In the paper, Dr Wakefield failed to state that this was the case and the Panel concluded that this was dishonest, in that his failure was intentional and that it was irresponsible. His conduct resulted in a misleading description of the patient population. This was a matter which was fundamental to the understanding of the study and the terms under which it was conducted.

In addition to the failure to state that the children were part of a project to investigate the new syndrome, the Lancet paper also stated that the children had been consecutively referred to the Department of Paediatric Gastroenterology with a history of a pervasive developmental disorder and intestinal symptoms. This description implied that the children had been referred to the gastroenterology department with gastrointestinal symptoms and that the investigators had played no active part in that referral process. In fact, the Panel has found that some of the children were not routine referrals to the gastroenterology department in that either they lacked a reported history of gastrointestinal symptoms and/or that Dr Wakefield had been actively involved in the process of referral. In those circumstances the Panel concluded that the description of the referral process was irresponsible, misleading and in breach of Dr Wakefield’s duty as a senior author.

The statement in the Lancet paper that investigations reported in it were approved by the Royal Free Hospital Ethics Committee when they were not, was irresponsible.

Subsequent to the paper’s publication, Dr Wakefield had two occasions on which he could have corrected the content of the Lancet paper yet both times he compounded his misconduct.

First, in a published letter in response to correspondents who had suggested that there had been biased selection of the Lancet children, Dr Wakefield stated that the children had been referred through the normal channels, a response which was dishonest and irresponsible. He provided an inaccurate statement which omitted relevant information when he knew that the description of the population in the study was being questioned by the scientific community.

Second, at a meeting of the Medical Research Council, the Chair, Professor Sir John Pattison referred to the seriousness and importance of the implications of Dr Wakefield’s research and its major public health implications. At that meeting and on the issue of bias in generating the series of cases, Dr Wakefield stated that the children had come by “the standard route”, a response which was dishonest and irresponsible.

Regarding the issues of conflicts of interest, Dr Wakefield did not disclose matters which could legitimately give rise to a perception of a conflict of interest. He failed to disclose to the Ethics Committee and to the Editor of the Lancet his involvement in the MMR litigation and his receipt of funding from the Legal Aid Board. He also failed to disclose to the Editor of the Lancet his involvement as the inventor of a patent relating to a new vaccine for the elimination of the measles virus (Transfer Factor) which he also claimed in the patent application, would be a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Even before the publication of the Lancet Paper, eminent professionals had expressed concerns about the LAB funding to Dr Wakefield and potential conflicts of interest. Dr Wakefield rejected these views. With regard to non-disclosure to the Ethics Committee, Dr Wakefield did in evidence accept that the Legal Aid Board funding should have been disclosed, but said that his involvement in the litigation need not, especially because of his interpretation of the questions in the application form. He said no question was asked which related to that matter and therefore felt no need to disclose. In evidence to the panel he stated:

“The form is set out expecting certain answers to specific questions and no such question exists. Therefore, since it was not asked, it was not answered.”

However, given the importance of an Ethics Committee’s reliance on the probity of an applicant, the Panel determined that this was a failure by Dr Wakefield and his actions amounted to serious professional misconduct.

With regard to the non-disclosure to the Lancet the Panel accepted evidence from the Editor of the Lancet, as to the importance of this issue. The Lancet published clear guidance in relation to the conflict of interest test that the applicant should apply and the need to discuss any issues arising from it with the Editor. The Lancet test was: “Is there anything that would embarrass you if it were to emerge after publication and you had not declared it?” Dr Wakefield chose not to declare or discuss any conflict of interest with the Editor. He stated that he was able to reconcile his position, was not embarrassed by it, and was quite proud of the position he had taken on behalf of the Lancet children.

Dr Wakefield was insistent that his involvement with the new patent had not given rise to any prior need to disclose. Despite the clear terms of the patent, he did not accept that the invention was envisaged as an alternative vaccine to MMR. He acknowledged that he had envisaged the use of transfer factor for at least a proportion of the population and that he had a financial and career interest in its success, but he said that it did not cross his mind to disclose it, and even with hindsight he insisted that there was a reasonable argument, as he put it, for non-disclosure. The Panel considered that his actions and his persistent lack of insight as to the gravity of his conduct amounted to serious professional misconduct.

In relation to the administration of Transfer Factor to Child 10, the Panel noted the admitted background of Dr Wakefield’s involvement in a company set up with Child 10’s father as Managing Director, to produce and sell Transfer Factor. Around the same time, Dr Wakefield inappropriately caused Child 10 to be administered transfer factor. The Panel accepted that information as to its safety had been obtained and that the approval to administer Transfer Factor to one child was granted in the form of “Chairman’s approval”, “on a named patient basis” in a letter from Dr Geoffrey Lloyd, Chairman of the Medical Advisory Committee at the Royal Free Hospital. Nonetheless the Panel found that Dr Wakefield was at fault because the substance was given for experimental reasons, he did not cause the details to be recorded in the child’s records, or cause the general practitioner to be informed, and he did not have the requisite paediatric qualifications.

Dr Wakefield’s actions were contrary to the clinical interests of Child 10 and an abuse of his position of trust as a medical practitioner. The Panel considered these to be serious departures from the standards of a registered medical practitioner and concluded that these amounted individually and collectively to serious professional misconduct.

Dr Wakefield caused blood to be taken from a group of children for research purposes at a birthday party, which the Panel found to be an inappropriate social setting. He behaved unethically in failing to seek Ethics Committee approval; he showed callous disregard for any distress or pain the children might suffer, and he paid the children £5 reward for giving their blood. He then described the episode in humorous terms at a public presentation and expressed an intention to repeat his conduct. When giving evidence to the Panel, Dr Wakefield expressed some regret regarding his remarks. The Panel was concerned at Dr Wakefield’s apparent lack of serious consideration to the relevant ethical issues and the abuse of his position of trust as a medical practitioner with regard to his conduct in causing the blood to be taken. The Panel concluded that his conduct brought the medical profession into disrepute.

Dr Wakefield defended the ethical basis for the taking of blood at a birthday party contrary to the experts who gave evidence to the Panel and who strongly condemned this action. The Panel determined that his conduct fell seriously short of the standards expected of a doctor and was a breach of the trust which the public is entitled to have in members of the medical profession. It concluded that this behaviour amounted to serious professional misconduct.

The Panel has borne in mind the principles guiding a doctor as set out in the relevant paragraphs of 1995 Good Medical Practice which relate to providing a good standard of practice and care, good clinical care, keeping up-to-date, abuse of professional position, probity in professional practice, financial and commercial dealings, and the general principles of conflict of interest, followed by particular provisions as to the way in which research must be conducted. The 1998 Good Medical Practice, relevant to Dr Wakefield’s conduct at the birthday party, lists the duties of a doctor in providing a good standard of practice and care, keeping up-to-date and the issue of research and the absolute duty to conduct all research with honesty and integrity.

In all the circumstances and taking into account the standard which might be expected of a doctor practising in the same field of medicine in similar circumstances in or around 1996-1998, the Panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s misconduct not only collectively amounts to serious professional misconduct, over a timeframe from 1996 to 1999, but also, when considered individually, constitutes multiple separate instances of serious professional misconduct.

Accordingly the Panel finds Dr Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct.

In considering what, if any, sanction to apply, the Panel was mindful at all times of the need for proportionality and the public interest which includes not only the protection of patients and the public at large, but also setting and maintaining standards within the medical profession, as well as safeguarding its reputation and maintaining public confidence in the profession. It bore in mind that the purpose of sanctions is not punitive, although that might be their effect.

The Panel noted the submissions of GMC Counsel that the appropriate and proportionate sanction would be erasure in light of his serious and wide-ranging misconduct. However the Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that this was only a submission on behalf of the GMC and it was for the Panel to make up its own mind. Dr Wakefield’s counsel did not make any substantive submissions on his behalf.

The Panel went on to consider whether it should, pursuant to Rule 30(1), postpone the case. It received no submissions in this regard and so went on to determine whether it was sufficient to conclude the case without making a direction or with an admonition.

The Panel made findings of transgressions in many aspects of Dr Wakefield’s research. It made findings of dishonesty in regard to his writing of a scientific paper that had major implications for public health, and with regard to his subsequent representations to a scientific body and to colleagues. He was dishonest in respect of the LAB funds secured for research as well as being misleading. Furthermore he was in breach of his duty to manage finances as well as to account for funds that he did not need to the donor of those funds. In causing blood samples to be taken from children at a birthday party, he callously disregarded the pain and distress young children might suffer and behaved in a way which brought the profession into disrepute.

In view of the nature, number and seriousness of the findings the Panel concluded it would be wholly inappropriate to conclude the case without making a direction or with a reprimand.

It next considered under rule 31 whether it was sufficient to direct that the registration of Dr Wakefield be conditional on his compliance during a period not exceeding three years with such requirements as the (Panel) may think fit to impose for the protection of members of the public or in his interests. Conditions have to be practicable, workable, measurable and verifiable and directed at the particular shortcomings identified. The Panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s shortcomings and the aggravating factors in this case including in broad terms the wide-ranging transgressions relating to every aspect of his research; his disregard for the clinical interests of vulnerable patients; his failure to heed the warnings he received in relation to the potential conflicts of interest associated with his Legal Aid Board funding; his failure to disclose the patent; his dishonesty and the compounding of that dishonesty in relation to the drafting of the Lancet paper; and his subsequent representations about it, all played out against a background of research involving such major public health implications, could not be addressed by any conditions on his registration. In addition, the Panel considered that his actions relating to the taking of blood at the party exemplifies a fundamental failure in the ethical standards expected of a medical practitioner. It concluded that conditional registration would not mark the seriousness of such fundamental failings in his duty as a doctor.

The Panel next went on to consider whether it would be sufficient to suspend Dr Wakefield’s registration for a period not exceeding twelve months. Dr Wakefield has demonstrated a persistent lack of insight and has insisted in many instances on his ethical propriety: in the context of the referral process and the treatment of the children in the research project in which he was engaged; in the context of the funding of the project; with regard to the terminology of the Lancet paper; with regard to his non-declaration of interests; with regard to not acting in the best clinical interests of the Lancet children and with regard to obtaining blood from children at a birthday party.

The Panel noted that the sanction of suspension may be appropriate for conduct that falls short of being fundamentally incompatible with continued registration; where there is no evidence of harmful deep-seated or attitudinal problems; and where there is insight and no significant risk of repeating behaviour. Although these points have been set out in the GMC’s Indicative Sanctions Guidance which was published subsequent to these events, the Panel considered that the guidance outlines the type of sanction appropriate to the gravity of misconduct and that the same principles are applicable to Dr Wakefield’s actions at the material times. The Panel considers that Dr Wakefield’s conduct in relation to the facts found falls seriously short of the relevant standards and that suspension would not be sufficient or appropriate against a background of several aggravating factors and in the absence of any mitigating submissions made on his behalf. Dr Wakefield’s continued lack of insight as to his misconduct serve only to satisfy the Panel that suspension is not sufficient and that his actions are incompatible with his continued registration as a medical practitioner.

Accordingly the Panel has determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register. 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.

The effect of the foregoing direction is that, unless Dr Wakefield exercises his right of appeal, his name will be erased from the Medical Register 28 days from when formal notice has been deemed to be served upon him by letter to his registered address.

Dr Wakefield is presently not subject to any interim order on his registration. The Panel will hear submissions on whether an immediate order of suspension should be imposed upon him pending the outcome of any appeal, first from Ms Smith on behalf of the General Medical Council and then from Mr Coonan on behalf of the doctor but will do that at the conclusion of the reading of all three determinations.

Andrew Wakefield – I have no need of continued registration

14 Feb

In a remarkable and somewhat odd statement put out by Andrew Wakefield, he states:

I have no need of continued registration with the GMC…

Which is somewhat contrary to his statement of 2004 that;

It has been proposed that my role in this matter should be investigated by the GMC. I not only welcome this, I insist on it…

Why would someone insist upon being heard by an organisation he holds so little respect for he longer wants to be a member?

During the rest of the statement, he provides thanks to the support of his economic fan base – the parents, imcluding no doubt the parents of the children whom counr amongst the 11 counts of sticking tubes and needles into developmentally-challenged children without ethical approval, and nine counts of doing so contrary to the children’s wellbeing.

In a private email Brian Deer stated his opinion – which I share – that:

There can’t by any doubt that with four charges of dishonesty, including research and financial misconduct, that he knows he will be erased from the medical register.

Just _one_ of these substantiated charges would be enough to get a GP struck off. With the amount Andrew Wakefield has against his name it would be a small miracle if this didn’t happen and he is pre-emptively striking back at the GMC, declaring he doesn’t care if they do strip him of his right to be referred to as ‘doctor’.

I’ll leave the last words to Brian Deer, the man who single handedly brought down Andrew Wakefield:

His latest statement illustrates a more sinister aspect of Andrew Wakefield’s conduct: the mismatch between what has occurred outside the hearing and what has gone on inside. Outside – appealing to his economic base – he claims he is a victim of sinister forces – the drug industry and government and so forth – when he’s not the slightest evidence of this, (and neither have I). He was taken down by an old fashioned journalistic investigation, executed in the public interest.

And yet, inside the hearing, his behaviour was quite different. He called no witnesses whatsoever. While the prosecution called a parent who provided devastating evidence, he didn’t risk putting any of the ringleaders outside the building into the witness chair, where they could be cross-examined over how vulnerable children came to be brought to a hospital with no department or reputation for evaluating developmental disorders, and where doctors seemed all-but-entirely uninterested in the children’s futures. Nor did he put any questions whatsoever to the government’s vaccine chief, despite Wakefield supporters turning up for a much-hyped showdown. Nothing was asked, because Wakefield has nothing.

What the Wakefield project was all about was getting into the small intestines and spines of children without anybody finding out the reason. *And this is where, rightly, that project has brought him.*

Andrew Wakefield – What happens next?

31 Jan

So Andrew Wakefield has been found proved guilty of the vast majority of the accusations against him and been found dishonest and acting irresponsibly with both the children under his ‘care’ and the not inconsiderable sums of public money he had occassion to recieve and ‘manage’.

None of this would have come as a surprise to anyone who had taken the time to carefully read Brian Deer’s thorough works on the subject. That it was a major shock to the John Stone’s and Martin Walker’s of this world tells you more about their capacity for self delusion than how shocking the findings regarding Wakefield were.

So whats next for Andrew Wakefield? Now that the official findings have been made public, the GMC must consider:

…whether those facts found proved or admitted, were insufficient to amount to a finding of serious professional misconduct. The Panel concluded that these findings, which include those of dishonesty and misleading conduct, would not be insufficient to support a finding of serious professional misconduct.

Yeah, pointless double speak aside (would not be insufficient??) the panel are basically saying that Andrew Wakefield’s behaviour could easily constitute serious professional misconduct.

So what can result from that? Brian Deer, writing in the Times Online provides a possible answer:

Lawyers have told me that any one of the more than 30 charges that were proved against Wakefield would typically lead to his being struck off. His days as a medical practitioner will soon be history…

And so what is the next step?

In the next session, commencing 7 April 2010, the Panel, under Rule 28, will hear evidence to be adduced and submissions from prosecution counsel then Dr Wakefield’s own counsel as to whether the facts as found proved do amount to
serious professional misconduct, and if so, what sanction, if any, should be imposed on his registration.

From April 7th then Andrew Wakefield will be fighting for the right to refer to himself and be referred to by others as ‘Doctor’. That will be a victory for anyone concerned with patient care in the UK.

Wakefield’s Inquisition: Abuse of the legal system and media by anti-vaccine doctor

29 Jan

As the GMC approaches a verdict on the misconduct of Andrew Wakefield, anti-vaccine sources are engaged in a concerted effort to make the “doctor” into a martyr rather than a failed researcher. It is vital to ensure that the general public is not in any way lulled into sympathy for the “doctor”.  In my judgment, the most important point to drive home is that, while Wakefield and associates play up the image of the “doctor” being persecuted for his ideas, he is the one who has persistently acted to suppress any discussion not entirely in his favor.  To that end, I have compiled the following list, complete to the best of my ability, of recorded frivolous lawsuits, libels, complaints and harassment by Wakefield and his immediate associates against his numerous critics.

3 October 1996: Wakefield files a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Commission over a broadcast critical of his claims that MMR was associated with Crohn’s disease.

1998-2003: Nick Chadwick withholds negative results suppressed by Wakefield from the public, apparently as required while litigation was ongoing.

February 2002: Wakefield files or threatens to file complaints to  the GMC against critical colleagues. One formal complaint involved a statement made in 1997. He reportedly told government chief medical health officer Sir Liam Donaldson: “It has come to my attention that you have sought details of our studies from the ethical practices committee of the Royal Free NHS trust. I infer from this that faced with an increasingly compelling scientific case against the MMR vaccine you are seeking to discredit the scientists involved. Your attempts to interfere in the scientific process are unacceptable. Not only do you have no right whatsoever to this information without permission, but also your action has had an indirect but nonetheless profound effect upon our ability to help these desperately ill children. I am seeking advice prior to taking this issue up with the General Medical Council.

27 February 2004: The Sunday Times and the Lancet a letter from Wakefield’s attorneys denying Feb. 20 reports that Wakefield failed to disclose conflicts of interest related to the 1998 paper, with the stated purpose “to invite you to agree promptly to publish a full apology to our client”.

November 2004: Wakefield files a lawsuit against Brian Deer and Channel 4 for libel. At around the same time, his attorneys send a letter falsely alleging that Deer “has made a formal statutory complaint to the General Medical Council against Mr Wakefield and others concerning these matters.” The letter also refers prominently to “a current Press Complaints Commission” of Brian Deer, though no such complaint is on record. The claim of a complaint by Deer is taken up by Carol Stott, and continues to circulate to the present despite repeated denials by Deer and the GMC. Curiously, a February 27, 2004 BBC article stated, “The General Medical Council is now carrying out an investigation into Dr Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who led the 1998 study.” This statement, coming only five days after Deer’s first report was published, not only weakens any suggestion that Deer directly initiated the investigation, but raises the possibility that some form of GMC inquiry on Wakefield (conceivably rising from his own past complaints against others) was under way even before Deer’s allegations were made public.

March-October 2005: Wakefield’s attorneys seek to freeze further action in the libel suit against Deer. Justice Eady “The claim form was issued on 31st March but only served on 22nd June 2005. Thereafter, it seems, the particulars of claim were served with some reluctance following prompting by the Defendants and an order of Master Rose on 27th July of this year. They eventually appeared on 10th August. There has thus apparently been a rather relaxed and dilatory approach towards litigation of a kind which is supposed to achieve vindication of reputation.” He further questions Wakefield’s motives in the lawsuit as a whole: “Claimant wished to extract whatever advantage he could from the existence of the proceedings while not wishing to progress them or to give the Defendants an opportunity of meeting the claims.”

31 January 2005: Wakefield files a second lawsuit against Deer, over content of briandeer.com, and a third against the Sunday Times and Channel 4.

29  June 2005: Cambridge Evening News receives a letter from Wakefield’s attorneys over a citation of a Brian Deer report (worded as “the article alleged…”), calling on the paper to “publish an apology”.

July 2007: Martin J. Walker initiates smears against Brian Deer.  Claims include allegation that Deer initiated GMC hearings against Wakefield.  Though Wakefield condemns Walker on 3 November 2008, Deer reports a December 2009 newsletter for Wakefield’s “network” requesting donations to pay an additional 5,500 pounds to Walker.

6 February 2009: A letter sent to Brian Deer requests that an article (published 2 days later) presenting evidence that Wakefield case histories in 1998 paper not be published: “(Y)ou appear to be considering publishing an account which covers much of the same material as is being considered by the Panel. Publication of your allegations and account at this time will give rise to serious risk that the GMC process will be prejudiced and the faimess of the hearing compromised. You also know that, at this juncture in the GMC process it would be inappropriate for Dr Wakefield to give a detailed response to you. He has denied t he allegations and gave a detailed response  over many days to the GMC Panel.”

13 March 2009: Andrew Wakefield files complaint with Press Complaint Commission, over Feb. 8 story. The key allegations are that Deer “knew that these allegations were either false or misleading, based on incomplete records – or, at the very least, open to question” and that “it was he who brought the original complaint. He therefore has an undeclared interest in its conclusions.

20 March 2009: Andrew Wakefield files addendum to complaint over Brian Deer’s statement, “I did not lay the initial complaint against Wakefield. This allegation is a fabrication, albeit rather a small one in the MMR issue.”  Bizarrely, Wakefield presents truth of his own allegation as immaterial: “(W)hether or not Mr. Deer initiated the GMC investigation as ‘complainant’ in his letter dated Feb. 25, 2004, or acted as an ‘informant’ in an investigation already begun by the GMC, he did not disclose his own direct participation in the GMC investigation in his most recent accounts in the Sunday Times, intending to give the public the misimpression that he was acting as a neutral and disinterested reporter.“

3 July 2009: Thoughtful House release, Press Complaints Commission Orders Sunday Times to Remove MMR journalist’s Stories on Dr. Wakefield from Paper’s Web Site”, alleges, The PCC decision today appears to indicate there are questions about the accuracy of the Deer stories,”  despite implicit admission in Feb. 6 that Deer reported only what had been alleged by others.

9 July 2009: Second press release, “Sunday Times Defies Press Complaints Commission”, alleges that the Sunday Times has now defied the PCC by putting the stories back online after complaining Dr. Wakefield publicly announced the PCC’s directive.”

8 September 2009: NAA press releaseOffit’s Failure to Disclose Jeopardizes Swine Flu Vaccine Program” is carried by Reuters.  The stated location of “Austin, Texas”, in contrast to NAA headquarters location of Nixa, Missouri, strongly suggests that Wakefield and/or Thoughtful House are the creators of the release. The release defends Wakefield, attacks Paul Offit, and by extension attacks Dateline broadcast in which Wakefield was portrayed critically.  It includes the claim, first made in a hoax published by Age of Autism, that Offit’s share of a royalty sale for the Rotateq vaccine to Merck is a minimum of $29 million and may approach $50 million.” Wakefield’s use of a third party to promote the hoax in September raises the possibility that he significantly contributed to the hoax itself, in which figures were inflated through an inapplicable 2007 CHOP policy and documents from a patent which preceded the one which was sold.

27 January 2009: On the day before the GMC released its first findings against Wakefield, a 104-page complaint is filed with the GMC by multiple or.  The most straightforward and prominently publicized claim is that Drs. Horton, Salisbury, Zuckerman, Pegg, and Rutter “gave false statements”. Obviously prepared long in advance, this complaint can be presumed without merit, and could easily be used as a basis for countersuits. Its greatest significance will almost certainly be as yet another obstacle to timely disclosures of findings and to further legal actions, of which US disciplinary proceedings against Wakefield and litigation against him and Thoughtful House are the most threatening to the “doctor’s” interests.

In hindsight, there are many things that were “off” about Wakefield. He relied (perhaps not wholly by his own choice) on an image of a “young maverick”, though he was in fact a well-established but not distinguished researcher with dozens of previous publications (none of which is listed in a Thoughtful House bibliography!). He earned his doctorate in 1981, at the strikingly early age of 25, yet PubMed records only 3 papers of his published before 1991. He held several formal titles at Royal Free, yet his contract stipulated that he have “no involvement in the clinical management of patients.” His previous efforts to link MMR with Crohn’s disease came very close to drawing charges of fraud (see review )  His publications in the affair show a shifting roster of coauthors and repeated changes in publishing journals. I find the path of his career (particularly his early display of apparent talent followed by surprising early difficulties) strikingly like that of artists who go on to commit forgery.

The bottom line is that the only thing necessary to stop Wakefield was for those who knew the most about his conduct to speak up before his spurious claims became cultural currency.  The best way to ensure that similar (or even worse) offenders are exposed before they do harm is to reform the courts, so that litigation is NEVER allowed to trump timely criticism among scientific professionals.