Doctor says he’s sorry for blood test on children

THE Royal Free doctor whose research linked autism to the MMR vaccine apologised this week for taking blood from children at a birthday party

Tan Parsons

THE Royal Free doctor whose research linked autism to the MMR vaccine apologised this week for taking blood from children at a birthday party.

Andrew Wakefield paid up to nine children £5 as a reward after he took their blood to use in his medical research.

He then joked with an audience at a presentation in California that two children had fainted and one had vomited, the General Medical Council heard.

Dr Wakefield, 51, is facing charges of serious professional misconduct alongside his research colleagues Prof John Walker-Smith and Prof Simon Murch.

The three doctors are alleged to have carried out invasive procedures at the Hampstead hospital including colonoscopy and lumbar punctures on 12 autistic children between 1996 and 1998 without ethical approval.

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Their research into the link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism was published in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 and sparked a worldwide debate.

On Monday Dr Wakefield admitted he paid between six and nine children £5 for blood samples at his son's 10th birthday party. But he added: "The parents were all happy and when they asked their children, they were all happy," he said.

The birthday party was held at the Bank of England Sports Club in Roehampton, south west London, in August 1998.

Dr Wakefield said: "These children were extremely relaxed. They all came forward of their own free will. Children can be very altruistic."

He said that as a reward at the end of the party the children were given £5 with their party bags - but it was not offered beforehand to either them or their parents as a bribe.

It had not crossed his mind, he said, that ethics committee permission should be sought because he thought of ethics committees as covering NHS patients in drug trials. "These children were not NHS patients. They were healthy children and friends of my son," he said.

The GMC was shown a DVD of a lecture Dr Wakefield gave at the University of California on March 20, 1999, in which he joked about the party incident.

"They all got £5 - it was entirely voluntary," Dr Wakefield told his laughing audience. "Two children fainted, one threw up over his mother. People said to me, you can't do that, children won't come back to your birthday parties. I said we live in a market economy, next year they'll want ten pounds."

Dr Wakefield told the panel on Monday that he had made the anecdote up to make his audience laugh in a long and dense lecture on cell structure and the effects of vaccine.

"It had no bearing on the truth at all. It was a story," he said.

"Clearly if it caused any distress I am sorry for it. That was not my intention."

Dr Wakefield is also accused of dishonestly misusing £55,000 of Legal Aid funding on the Lancet paper study, which was already funded by the NHS. The money funded two years of research into the link with autism and inflammatory bowel disease - but Dr Wakefield claims it was for a separate study.

He is also alleged to have injected one 10-year-old child with an experimental alternative to MMR called Transfer Factor without permission and before it had been proved safe.

The hearing continues.