Andrew Wakefield, the physician whose research started the scare over a purported link between MMR vaccines and autism, “abused [his] position of trust as a medical practitioner”, according to a panel ruling on his fitness to practise as a doctor.
After a hearing that began way back in 2007, UK regulator the General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that there was enough evidence to prove a number of serious issues with Wakefield’s behaviour and that he had failed in his duties as a doctor.
“These findings, which include those of dishonesty and misleading conduct, would not be insufficient to support a finding of serious professional misconduct,” it said in a ruling released today.
In April a GMC panel will hear from both Wakefield’s legal team and the prosecuting team and decide whether the facts it has established really do amount to serious professional misconduct and, if they do, what the punishment should be.
Wakefield gained huge publicity – and later notoriety – after his research was used to support claims of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Subsequent work has disproven any such link but many parents still blame the vaccine for their children’s autism. Wakefield has immense support from these people.
Among the GMC findings was that Wakefield “caused blood to be taken from a group of children” at a party and paid each child £5 for their blood.
He was also “dishonest” and “irresponsible” in statements made about the selection of patients for a trial published in the Lancet regarding gastrointestinal disease and developmental problems, the GMC panel found. It also confirmed that he had failed to disclose his role as an advisor in a case relating to MMR – including receipt of funding from the UK Legal Aid Board – to the editor of the Lancet when he co-authored that paper. It was the publication of this paper that spurred Wakefield to suggest a link between MMR and autism.
The panel also found that the facts regarding two colleagues of Wakefield, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, “would not be insufficient to support a finding of serious professional misconduct”.
The GMC can ban all three from acting as doctors in the UK.