- Children’s confidentiality breached with impunity
As a Murdoch-commissioned reporter, Deer gained access to numerous influential sources
Doors to confidential information that Deer would not otherwise have obtained – including confidential medical records – were opened. Deer was essentially providing the ammunition to build the case, while garnering material – scoops for his “story” – in his relentless assault aimed at destroying Dr. Wakefield’s professional career, winning kudos and advancing his own career.
A complaint was filed with the editor of the Sunday Times about Deer’s “gutter tactics”
Rosemary Kessick, the mother of a child in the Lancet study accused Brian Deer of having falsified his identity to gain an interview, and then proceeded to use, what she termed, “gutter tactics.”7 The GMC had illegally obtained legal documents relating to the MMR litigation from the Legal Aid Board in violation of the Legal Aid Act of 1988. Deer posted on the internet, the names and confidential medical information about the children described in the Lancet article, in violation of the Data Protection Act (1998).
The issue of how Brian Deer gained access to confidential patient records arose both in relation to articles in the Sunday Times and to posts on his website. But there was no opportunity to question him about it in a public forum. Someone who had authority to access confidential medical and legal records illegally provided such documents to Deer.
The issue of breach of confidentiality arose again when Deer boasted in a BMJ Rapid Response comment (February 2010): “I know the names and family backgrounds of all 12 of the children enrolled in the study, including the child enrolled from the United States.” BMJ readers expressed outrage, demanding to know how he came by such information. Who provided this confidential personal information, and under whose authority? Professor Dodge, Hilary Butler and John Stone had expressed the view that: “probably the most alarming aspect of the already disturbing MMR debacle was the provision of the medical records of vulnerable children to a tabloid journalist”. Bill Welsh, President Autism Treatment Trust wrote:
“Unless ‘medical ethics’ is a one-way street applicable only to Dr Wakefield and his colleagues there was apparently a monumental breach of ethics at the Royal Free Hospital. In today’s pervert laden Britain there have been far too many examples of slipshod attention by medical supremos to the safety of children. Perhaps Ari Zuckerman or Michael Pegg would be kind enough to enlighten us regarding what action was taken.
But what about Richard Horton, Lancet Editor, surely he knew earlier than anybody that the journalist had obtained confidential records. Why did he personally not actuate a police enquiry? The list of doctors who knew but were content to do nothing is becoming endless.
It would appear that the destruction of Dr Andrew Wakefield et al was paramount. Ethics, integrity, rectitude and even common sense lost out in the race to destroy the careers of three fine physicians.”
The BMJ covered up this medical/legal ethics violation by removing online posts from readers who objected to the breach of confidentiality. An editorial note (March 24, 2010) stated: “Following a legal complaint several responses have been removed.”