Doctor who was accused of providing a drug 'grocery' for addicts is struck off

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The Independent Online

The founder of a private drug addiction centre, who enjoyed a reputation for his "pioneering" treatments, has been struck off the medical register for "irresponsible" practise.

The General Medical Council's verdict on Colin Brewer, the medical director of the Stapleford Centre, which has clinics in Belgravia, London, and Stapleford Tawney, Essex, brings to an end the longest and most complex case in the council's 145-year history.

It pitched Dr Brewer, 65, and six of his medical colleagues against the NHS establishment in a showdown between rival schools of thought on how drug addiction should be treated.

Dr Brewer and the Stapleford Centre pursued a liberal prescribing policy, handing out large quantities of drugs including opiates and painkillers to addicts, arguing that they could not be forced to give up their drugs until they were ready.

Some patients received "maintenance prescriptions" for many years, which it was claimed enabled them to lead stable lives while paying the private clinic's £100-£200 weekly charge.

Dr Brewer, who retired in 2003, said it was better to give the patients the drugs they needed and keep them in touch with medical services than risk them going to the black market.

But his accusers from the NHS drug treatment service argued that the Stapleford Centre's prescribing policy had gone too far and it was acting like a "grocery" for addicts, where they could obtain any drugs they wanted. They claimed Dr Brewer had fallen below the standards of proper medical care.

Two years and nine months after the case began, the GMC yesterday agreed. Its fitness-to-practise panel found Dr Brewer, 65, guilty of serious professional misconduct over his treatment of 13 patients that "fell seriously short of the standards expected of a medical practitioner".

The panel praised him as a "pioneer" in the use of methadone for heroin addiction and disulfiram for alcoholism and said he had brought to the treatment of addiction "a clinical concern and interest which does not always appear to be a feature of their treatment by others".

It said there was no suggestion he had been motivated by financial gain and he had always acted in what he thought was the best interests of his patients. Patients of all ages and from all walks of life had been cured of their addiction thanks to his "sympathetic" approach, it said.

But the panel said he was "dismissive" of others' views, became "over-confident" in his treatment and "even now" did not accept some of the criticism levelled at his practice. "The scale of your bad practice is demonstrated by the numerous instances in which the panel has held you to have acted irresponsibly," it ruled.

It listed a catalogue of omissions, from failing to assess and monitor patients adequately to prescribing large quantities of drugs which encouraged dependence or which could have been sold on the black market. One patient, Grant Smith, 29, died after Dr Brewer prescribed a DIY detoxification kit for use at home which contained 16 different drugs and an inadequate instruction sheet.

Ronald Tovey, 47, of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, and Hugh Kindness, 66, of Ashtead, Surrey, were also found guilty of serious professional misconduct. Dr Kindness received a reprimand while Dr Tovey had conditions imposed on his registration for three years.

The other four doctors from the Stapleford centre who were charged were cleared at earlier hearings.