GP who gave MMR
warning faces sack
By Daniel Foggo
A doctor who has spoken of the possible dangers of children receiving the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and other vaccinations has been charged with serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council.
Dr Jayne Donegan, 47, is being disciplined over her decision to give expert court testimony on the issue. Her situation echoes the plight of Dr Andrew Wakefield, the gastro-enterologist forced to resign after his evidence linking the MMR jab to autism in children angered the government, drug industry and medical establishment.
Dr Donegan's disciplinary action, which could result in her being struck off, stems from legal action in 2002 by two mothers opposed to the MMR jab. Her evidence was later described by a judge as "junk science".
Dr Donegan, a London GP, said she was charged with serious professional misconduct in July 2004. "Since then, I have heard nothing and I am still waiting to hear exactly what it is that I am meant to have done wrong."
Jane Donegan, a GP and homeopath, gave evidence for two mothers who were fighting attempts by their former partners to have their children given childhood immunisations. The mothers opposed immunisation altogether, believing it unnecessary and possibly dangerous.
Dr Donegan, who has more than 20 years' experience in practise, is accused by the GMC of failing in her duty to the court by not giving objective evidence. A hearing to decide her fitness to practise is scheduled for December.
Whether the case goes ahead may depend on the outcome of an appeal by the GMC against a high court ruling quashing a finding of serious professional misconduct against Sir Roy Meadow, the paediatrician who gave misleading statistical evidence in the Sally Clarke murder case.
A high court judge, Mr Justice Collins, ruled that expert witnesses are virtually immune from action by the doctors' disciplinary body over their evidence in court. The only exception is if a judge lodges a complaint against them.
The GMC, backed by the attorney general, appealed against the ruling giving experts immunity. Judgment is expected soon and lawyers predict that the appeal will succeed.
In Dr Donegan's case, although she was criticised by the trial judge, Mr Justice Sumner, and the appeal court, the judges did not file a complaint with the GMC.
In the two unrelated cases, which were heard together in the high court's family division, the fathers of two girls, then aged 10 and four, sought orders that they should have the whole range of childhood immunisations against the wishes of their ex-partners. Dr Donegan was called as an expert witness by the two mothers, whose daughters had received none of the vaccinations routinely given to children, including jabs against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, meningitis and polio. The mothers lost in the high court in 2003 and their appeal was thrown out later that year.
The GP, who delivered two written reports and gave oral evidence, opposed immunisation in general.
According to Lord Justice Sedley, one of the three appeal court judges: "Dr Donegan's report was based on no independent research, and most of the published papers cited by her in support of her views turned out either to support the contrary position or at least to give no support to her own. Not to mince words, the court below was presented with junk science."
Regardless of which side calls them, expert witnesses are supposed to remain neutral, giving their honest opinion and presenting the scientific evidence accurately. In his judgment ordering that the girls had to be vaccinated, Mr Justice Sumner said: "I am compelled to the reluctant conclusion that in this case Dr Donegan has allowed her deeply held feelings on the subject of immunisation to overrule the duty she owes to the court."