Doctor struck off over 'pointless' MS treatment

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A doctor who charged vulnerable multiple sclerosis patients thousands of pounds for "pointless" and "unjustifiable" stem cell treatments was struck off today by the General Medical Council.

Robert Trossel, 56, was told his actions had done "lasting harm" after a long-running GMC disciplinary hearing into his involvement with nine MS patients who sought his help in "desperation" to find a cure for the disease.

Brian Gomes da Costa, chairman of the GMC fitness to practise panel, told Dr Trossel: "You have exploited vulnerable patients and their families.

"You have given false hope and made unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims to patients suffering from degenerative and devastating illnesses.

"Your conduct has unquestionably done lasting harm, if not physically, then mentally and financially, to these patients and also to their families and supporters."

Prof Gomes da Costa told Dr Trossel that his misconduct was "fundamentally incompatible" with being a doctor.

"You have repeatedly demonstrated deep-seated attitudinal problems and a propensity for misleading conduct which is unlikely to be remediable," he said.

Dr Trossel, who admitted he was "too enthusiastic" about the use of stem cell therapy, was found by the panel to have exploited vulnerable patients by offering them "unjustifiable" and "inappropriate" treatments.

Five were injected between August 2004 and August 2006 at his Rotterdam clinic with a substance said to contain stem cells, in a move described as medically unjustifiable, "inappropriate" and exploitative of vulnerable patients.

Two of the patients, along with another MS patient, were advised by Dr Trossel to undergo a treatment called Aqua Tilis therapy (AQT)- described by one as "completely bizarre" - involving "antioxidant steam" with "magnetic fields made from generators".

There was "scant", if any, prospect of alleviation of the MS symptoms by stem cell therapy and AQT, the GMC ruled.

Dr Trossel exaggerated the benefits of stem cell treatment, did not describe accurately how the stem cells would work and overstated his success in treating patients with MS, the panel said.

The GMC heard that he had no background in neurology or haematology and that he was not an expert in stem cell research. He was also found to have used stem cells that were not designed for human use.

Earlier this month the panel ruled his actions constituted "repeated and serious" breaches of many of the "essential tenets" of good medical practice and that his fitness to practise was impaired.

But it ruled that he was not dishonest because he believed the claims he had made about stem cell therapy and AQT.

The patients, the majority of whom were suffering from the "progressive and aggressive" form of the disabling neurological disease, raised thousands of pounds to fund the therapy, in many cases through donations or sponsored events.

He was found to have injected four patients with material containing bovine brain and spinal cord live cells without obtaining informed consent.

Dr Trossel said he only discovered a batch of vials - sent to him in 2006 by Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT) - were not designed for human use when he took part in a BBC Newsnight programme.

After contacting California-based All Cells and failing to get confirmation the cells could be used on humans, Dr Trossel told the hearing he stopped using the ACT products.

From that point, he said patients were only treated with cells bought from a supplier in Pakistan which provided necessary certification for human use.

ACT's bosses, Laura Brown and Steve van Rooyen, underwent investigation by US authorities and were facing extradition proceedings from South Africa, the panel heard.

As well as his Preventief Medisch Centrum clinic in Rotterdam, Dr Trossel had consulting rooms in Wimpole Street, central London.

He was described by his QC, Robert Jay, at the hearing earlier this week as a "compassionate" doctor who continues to be a "successful and sought-after" practitioner in Rotterdam.

He said Dr Trossel was "neither driven by love of money nor love of self" and had made it clear to patients that stem cell treatment was an experimental and untested therapy.

The patients involved in the case were named as James McCorrisken, Malcolm Pear, Stephen Murphy, Rebecca Parker, Tracy Wagstaff, Karen Galley and Deborah Sandford.

Allegations against Dr Trossel in relation to two more patients - Catherine Neal and Anita Knowles - were found not proved.

In another case, the GMC said Dr Trossel made false and misleading statements to investigative journalist Barney Calman, who visited his private clinic in London claiming to have Hodgkin's disease, in 2006.

The panel also ruled Dr Trossel's fitness to practise was impaired due to a police caution he received in August 2007 after failing to pay for car parking at Stansted Airport in June that year.

Dr Trossel told the hearing that his flight from Holland had been delayed and he was unable to find his ticket or an attendant so he saw "no other option" than to tailgate another vehicle out of the car park.

He agreed to repay £472.50 to NCP after receiving the police caution, the panel heard.

In relation to a conviction in Antwerp last year over stem cell treatment offences under Belgian law, the panel ruled that Dr Trossel's fitness to practise was not impaired because the offences were not comparable with English law.