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Walker-Smith says "no children invited" for 1998 Wakefield MMR scare research

This page is research from an award-winning investigation, concluding in 2011, by Brian Deer for The Sunday Times of London into a campaign linking the MMR children's vaccine with autism based on fraudulent research by British former doctor Andrew Wakefield

This statement, by Professor John Walker-Smith, formerly head of the Royal Free hospital's department of paediatric gastroenterology, was issued through the Lancet on February 20 2004, when the journal's editor, Dr Richard Horton, press-released content from a confidential meeting with Brian Deer for The Sunday Times. Walker-Smith stresses that all children were referred by other doctors. Walker-Smith denies bias in referrals



A STATEMENT BY PROFESSOR JOHN WALKER-SMITH

I deny the allegation that there was systematic bias in the pattern of referral for the children in the 1998 Lancet paper. No children were invited to participate in the study.

Upon review of the Centre for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Royal Free Hospital, work book entitled “Biopsies VI 4/9/95 to 21/7/97”, we confirm that the children who were reported in the Lancet paper of 1998 were the first 12 children consecutively referred to the university department of paediatric gastroenterology with autism and related disorders, who had gastrointestinal symptoms requiring ileo-colonoscopy to exclude chronic bowel inflammation. These children were referred to me at the university department of paediatric gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital from July 25, 1996, to February 24, 1997—one being referred from the island of Jersey and one from the USA. By the time the paper was accepted for publication, as mentioned in an appendix to the Lancet paper, up to January 28, 1998, a further 40 children had been so investigated, 39 with the syndrome reported in the paper. The children were all investigated specifically and exclusively by clinical need to determine whether bowel inflammation was present that could then be appropriately treated.

These children were referred to the Royal Free by their general practitioner (ten cases) or consultant paediatrician (two cases). Some parents had heard of Dr Wakefield’s previous work on inflammatory bowel disease and specifically requested referral, but the channel of referral was always as described above. However, the pattern of referral was often that the parents of the children approached Dr Wakefield directly knowing of his work, frequently by telephone. In the case of one patient, in whom it has been alleged that I contacted a consultant in order for a referral to be made, he had been asked by the parents of this child to contact me to explain what investigations were available at the Royal Free for children with autism and bowel problems. To the best of my recollection, I did not invite any children to participate in our study.

None of the children at the time of the referral was known by the team of paediatric gastroenterologists who cared for and investigated these children to be involved in a pilot project commissioned by the Legal Aid Board. At the time of consultation, I was aware that some parents were engaged in legal proceedings. Review of the clinical notes of the 12 children in the 1998 Lancet paper indicate that we had become aware at the time of publication that one child was involved in litigation proceedings against the vaccine manufacturers.

Professor John Walker-Smith

Emeritus Professor of Paediatric Gastroenterology



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