A Warwickshire doctor who was involved in research sparking fears the MMR jab caused autism has been found not guilty of serious professional misconduct at a General Medical Council hearing.
Dr Simon Murch, professor of paediatrics and child health at Warwick Medical School, and who works at University Hospital, Coventry, contributed to a controversial article which ran in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 which suggested a link between the MMR vaccination, bowel disease and autism.
As a result of the paper the number of children given the triple jab to protect against measles, mumps and rubella plummeted.
The main author, Dr Andrew Wakefield, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the GMC and struck off the medical register.
The hearing was told Prof Murch should have ensured there was appropriate ethical approval for research on children, he brought carrying out lumbar punctures to an end after not being able to draw any clear inference that the youngsters were suffering from a serious neurological disorder.
But the GMC said Prof Murch’s involvement was subsidiary to, and more limited than, that of Dr Wakefield and another doctor, Prof John Walker-Smith, who was also struck off the medical register.
Panel chairman Dr Surendra Kumar said: “The panel concluded Prof Murch acted in good faith, albeit it has found he was in error.
“His actions, although comparable to professional misconduct in respect of undertaking procedures which were not clinically indicated, were mitigated by the fact he was under a false impression that they were clinically indicated.”
The GMC said Dr Wakefield acted in a way that was “dishonest”, “misleading” and “irresponsible” while carrying out research into a possible link between the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, bowel disease and autism.
Furthermore, he “abused his position of trust” and “brought the medical profession into disrepute” in studies he carried out on children.
The GMC said there had been “multiple separate instances of serious professional misconduct”.
The GMC described how Dr Wakefield took blood from his son’s friends at a birthday party, paying the youngsters £5 each, before joking about it during a US presentation in March 1999.
Dr Kumar said: “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.”
Dr Wakefield, 53, who is currently in New York, caused controversy when he published a study suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism.
The GMC said Dr Wakefield went against the interests of children in his care in conducting his research.
He ordered some youngsters to undergo unnecessary colonoscopies, lumbar punctures (spinal taps), barium meals, blood and urine tests and brain scans.
Yet most of the children did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the research, the GMC ruled.
Furthermore, Dr Wakefield submitted an application for funding from the Legal Aid Board for research but failed to disclose that some of the costs would have been met by the NHS anyway.
Dr Kumar said: “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 to 1998, the panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s conduct not only collectively amounts to serious professional misconduct over a timeframe from 1996 to 1999 but also, considered individually, constitutes multiple separate instances of serious professional misconduct.”
The GMC hearing, which has lasted 217 days and heard from 36 witnesses, is the longest in the GMC’s history.
It has reportedly cost in excess of £1 million.
Dr Wakefield was an honorary consultant in experimental gastroenterology at London’s Royal Free Hospital at the time of his research.
In February, he left his role at Texan clinic The Thoughtful House Centre for Children, which he founded to study developmental disorders.
In a statement, Dr Wakefield said: “In reporting their findings the GMC panel sought to deny that the case against me and my colleagues is related to issues of MMR vaccine safety and specifically, the role of this vaccine in causing autism.
“This is not in fact the case.
“Efforts to discredit and silence me through the GMC process have provided a screen to shield the Government from exposure on the (Pluserix) MMR vaccine scandal.”
The GMC said Dr Wakefield’s contract with the Royal Free “was subject to a stipulation that he would not have any involvement in the clinical management of patients”, yet this was breached.
Dr Kumar said: “On five occasions he ordered investigations on children - when he had no paediatric qualifications - and in contravention of the limitations of his appointment.”
Dr Wakefield and Prof Walker-Smith have 28 days to appeal against the decision.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The safety of MMR has been endorsed through numerous studies in many countries.
“Thankfully, more parents are having their children vaccinated with MMR and they see it as being as safe as other childhood vaccines.”