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GMC on the birthday party blood draws

Posted Jan 28 2010 4:21pm

One subject that has been discussed on this blog a number of times is the birthday party for one of the Wakefield children, where blood samples were taken from children for research purposes. Given that, and given that one key part discussed here has been found “not proved”, I thought I would use that as the first segment of the decision to discuss here.

Here is the section:

The Birthday Party
‘42. a. On a date unknown prior to 20 March 1999 at your son’s
birthday party you,

i. took caused blood to be taken from a group of children to use for research purposes,
(amended) Found proved
The Panel considers that the amendment is necessary to
reflect the state of the evidence.

ii. paid those children who gave blood £5 each for doing so,
Found proved
The Panel is satisfied by your own evidence (Day 55p41)
that you paid the children “as a reward at the end of the
party the children who had given blood all received £5”

b. On 20 March 1999 you gave a presentation to the
MIND Institute, in California, USA in the course of which you,
Admitted and found proved to the words ‘California, USA

i. described the incident referred to in 42.a. above in
humorous terms,
Found proved
ii. expressed an intention to obtain research samples in
similar circumstances in the future;
Found proved
The Panel is satisfied that this has been found proved in its
entirety, having viewed the video.

‘43. a. Your conduct as set out in paragraph 42.a. above was unethical
in that,
i. you did not have ethics committee approval for your
actions,
Found proved
The Panel does not accept your explanation that you did
not consider this action to be unethical or that Ethics
Committee approval was required.

ii. you took caused blood to be taken from children in an
inappropriate social setting,
(amended) Found proved
The Panel considers that the amendment was necessary to
reflect the state of the evidence.

iii. you offered financial inducement to children in order to
obtain blood samples,
Found not proved
The Panel accepts that the children were not persuaded to give blood by being offered money first.

iv. you showed a callous disregard for the distress and pain
that you knew or ought to have known the children involved
might suffer,
Found proved
The Panel is satisfied by your evidence that the children
were “paid for their discomfort”(day 67p23), which it
concluded was evidence of a callous disregard.

v. in the circumstances you abused your position of trust as
a medical practitioner,
Found proved on the basis of the above findings.

b. Your conduct set out in paragraph 42.b. was such as to bring
the medical profession into disrepute;’
Found proved on the basis of the above findings.

The section found “not proved” is where Dr. Wakefield was reported to have offered money to the children to induce them to offer blood samples.

you offered financial inducement to children in order to obtain blood samples,
Found not proved
The Panel accepts that the children were not persuaded to give blood by being offered money first.

As I understand it, Dr. Wakefield’s explanation before the GMC was that the children were given the money at the end of the party in their goodie bags.

I guess this wasn’t funny enough to make it into the story given at the MIND Institute “...so we lined them up, wih informed parental consent of course, they all get paid five pounds, which doesn’t translate into many dollars I’m afraid, and they put their arms out with a cuff on and have blood taken. It’s all entirely voluntary [audience laughs]” He then went on to discuss in a humorous manner the discomfort of the children and how “they charge me a fortune”.

As funny now as it was then. (as in, not at all). My read is that he is left with having giving a false account of how the research was performed, during a presentation of that research, given the sequence of events he gave at the MIND Institute. That makes a good example of what was and was not a part of the GMC inquiry. They inquired into subjects that pertain to the doctor’s “fitness to practice” medicine. They didn’t not inquire into his research ethics outside of that.

Let’s consider another, very important point, which was found proved:

you did not have ethics committee approval for your actions,
Found proved
The Panel does not accept your explanation that you did not consider this action to be unethical or that Ethics Committee approval was required.

This exemplifies why Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues were investigated by the GMC—for ethics violations pertaining mostly to the children either under their care or, as in this instance, outside their care and outside of their ethics board approval.

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