MP Who Breached Patient Confidentiality Failed to Disclose Competing Interest in MMR Debate

By John Stone

April 30, 2010


Evan Harris, the MP who made allegations in a debate about MMR in the House of Commons in March 2004, disclosed that his father, Frank, was a recently retired professor paediatrics ((see TheyWorkForYou), but not that the latter had sat on the Committee on Safety in Medicines in 1990-92 (an appointment listed in his entry in Who’s Who) in the period leading to the withdrawal of the Urabe strain MMR vaccines in September 1992 .

 A report in British Medical Journal testifies to the hectic manoeuvring that followed the sudden removal of these two vaccines:

 "Last week the GMSC was worried that the vaccination programme would be put back by the debacle over the new arrangements for supplying the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR). The CMO has apologised to the profession that the information that two brands of the MMR vaccine were to be withdrawn was leaked before the profession was told. The department had planned to give doctors 48 hours' notice. The information was leaked on 15 September and earlier in some places. But by the time of the MSC meeting (17 September) many members had still received no information. The department has advised doctors to return their stocks of Pluserix-MMR and Immravix [sic] and order extra supplies of MMR II.

"The chairman will draw the department's attention to the possible effect on vaccination target levels if parents are deterred from bringing their children to be vaccinated because of the adverse publicity. Dr Eric Rose suggested that the department should mount a publicity campaign on the virtues of the MMR and the Hib vaccines."

By contrast Evan Harris had written failing to recall the episode in the Sunday Times on 22 February 2004 (HERE):

"On the safety of MMR, the evidence and scientific consensus are overwhelming. There is a lot of good research that fails to find any significant safety problem with MMR..."

In the same article Harris made an accusation which apparently depended on sight of confidential patient records:

“At least four of the 10 patients paid for under legal aid were also apparently paid for by the health service.”

Without agreeing that Harris was correct in identifying the Lancet paper with protocol 172-96 which had been sponsored by the Legal Aid Board, it is hard to see how he could have formed this opinion or made such claims without reference to confidential patient documents.

Evan Harris’s close association with his father was attested in a Daily Telegraph report of the parliamentary expenses scandal when he sold on a flat, in part paid for by the tax payer, to his parents at a substantial profit (HERE).

As reported previously, Harris had worked closely with journalist Brian Deer in his “investigation” of Andrew Wakefield and colleagues John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch which led to their prosecution by the UK General Medical Council (HERE). He still needs to explain how he became involved in the affair, and what his views are on patient confidentiality.

John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.