GP is struck off for 'guinea pig' tests on patients

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A Merseyside doctor, who used his patients as guinea-pigs for drug trials without their knowledge or consent, was struck off the medical register yesterday.

Dr Geoffrey Fairhurst, 57, of Warrington, Cheshire, was told his name would be taken off the register after a three-day hearing at the General Medical Council in London found him guilty of using his patients as unknowing participants in trials of potentially dangerous drugs, for which he received payments of pounds 15,000.

Dr Fairhurst had been accused of forging signatures of four patients at his surgery in St Helens, Merseyside, without their written or verbal consent.

He was said to have been caught out when a partner at the surgery, Dr David Edwards, "turned whistleblower" and reported him to the GMC.

After the decision, Miss Rosalind Foster, barrister to the GMC, told its professional conduct committee this was an example of "the bigger they come, the harder they fall".

Dr Fairhurst, a government advisor on health and a former JP, was also chairman of a medical ethics committee.

Patients had "an absolute right" to decide whether to participate in drug trials after being given full information. "You have found that four patients in three trials have been denied that right."

The doctor who had "blown the whistle" had been badly affected and had to accept "a great deal vitriol". She said the activities of Dr Fairhurst had "a grave potential for harm".

The hearing was told of bitter disagreement between the two doctors. Dr Fairhurst, had been paid sums of money by Glaxo Pharmaceutical and other drug companies between 1988 and 1995. Miss Foster said Dr Edwards decided to become a "whistleblower" because he was concerned for the safety and welfare of patients.

Dr Edwards claimed to have discovered dishonesty and the falsification of drug records for trials, mainly for treatments for heart complaints and high blood pressure.

Nicola Davies QC, for Fairhurst, said the case had a "deeply unhappy background".

Dr Edwards had a strong dislike for Dr Fairhurst. Further the GMC could not prove forensically who had written the false signatures on consent forms. She was not suggesting the patients were lying, but it was significant they had all been in ill health and on a number of medications for many years.

The committee was later considering whether the doctor was guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Sir Donald Irvine, president of the GMC and chairman of the professional conduct committee, told Dr Fairhurst he had abused the trust of patients and undermined the medical profession. Sir Donald also encouraged other doctors to report malpractice after hearing how colleague Dr David Edwards and Dr Min Shah blew the whistle on Dr Fairhurst.

Striking Dr Fairhurst from the register he said: "Trust lies at the heart of the practice of medicine. Patients must be able to trust doctors with their lives and well being. That trust must not be abused.

"Medical research is fundamental to the advance of medical practice and must always be conducted with scrupulous honesty and integrity. Where doctors intend to involve patients in clinical trials, it is essential that they first give those patients a proper explanation.

"Patients have a right to know what it involves and understand the implications for them before they are invited to take part. No trial should ever be carried out without the consent of the patient."