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Professor denies MMR charges

PUBLISHED: 12:59 15 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:49 07 September 2010

Susanna Wilkey A CONSULTANT who helped carry out controversial research into the MMR jab at the Royal Free Hospital believed his boss was a doctor of the highest rank , a hearing has heard. While working under Professor John Walker-Smith, Prof Simon Murc

Susanna Wilkey

A CONSULTANT who helped carry out controversial research into the MMR jab at the Royal Free Hospital believed his boss was "a doctor of the highest rank", a hearing has heard.

While working under Professor John Walker-Smith, Prof Simon Murch carried out colonoscopies on some of the 12 children involved in the study led by Dr Andrew Wakefield.

The study prompted a national vaccination scare after the doctors controversially linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab with bowel disease and autism.

The General Medical Council heard Prof Walker-Smith carried out a series of procedures while playing a "purely clinical" role in the research.

It is said the trio, accused of serious professional misconduct, carried out invasive procedures at the Hampstead hospital to collect tissue samples including lumbar punctures - or spinal taps - on 12 autistic children without ethical approval.

The long-running case, which started in July 2007, resumed on Monday when the panel heard Prof Walker-Smith's methods of analysing tissue samples had become the cornerstone of the Royal Free's success.

Prof Murch said: "I think if you were to ask any North American practitioner at that stage the one European gastroenterologist they would know of first, I think it would have been John Walker-Smith. There are other outstandingly good paediatric gastroenterologists, but he is certainly at the top level."

But he denied the allegation that as a named responsible consultant he had a duty to ensure the information put to the ethics committee was true and accurate.

He also denied the allegation that it was his responsibility to treat the children in accordance with the terms of the ethics committee's approval.

"If you are away on annual leave during a research project, then you are unable to do so," he told the panel. Despite being a member of the hospital's ethics committee, Prof Murch denied making any decision on giving ethical approval for the controversial research into the link between the MMR jab and autism.

The hearing was told he had taken up a role as the paediatric representative on the ethical approval committee at the Royal Free in May 1996, four months before the three doctors sought approval for their controversial study.

When questioned by Adrian Hopkins QC on whether he took part in the decisions surrounding Wakefield's research, Prof Murch said: "Not in the slightest. I left the room and waited in the corridor until I was called back in again.

"Quite properly, I played no role. It was expected that I would leave the room. It was instructed in a fairly gentle way, but it was expected and that was what I did."

Prof Murch also told the hearing the treatment they were providing for the children was "clinical" and served no research purpose.

He said he believed all the invasive procedures were justified because if he had been a parent of one of the children in the study he would "not have wanted to rest" until every possible cause had been explored.

Dr Wakefield now lives in the USA where he works in child autism and gastroenterology in Austin, Texas.

A key allegation against him is that he was unethical in receiving payments for advising solicitors who were taking legal action on behalf of parents who thought MMR had harmed their children.

At the hearing in July 2007, the GMC heard that he paid £5 to children at his son's fifth birthday party for blood samples to use in his research.

Some of the children fainted and vomited as a result.

The trio all deny serious professional misconduct. The hearing continues.


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