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MP Who Breached Patient Confidentiality Failed to Disclose Competing Interest in MMR Debate

Disclosure By John Stone

Evan Harris, the MP who made allegations in a debate about MMR in the House of Commons in March 2004, disclosed that his father, Frank, was a recently retired professor paediatrics ((see TheyWorkForYou), but not that the latter had sat on the Committee on Safety in Medicines in 1990-92 (an appointment listed in his entry in Who’s Who) in the period leading to the withdrawal of the Urabe strain MMR vaccines in September 1992 .

 A report in British Medical Journal testifies to the hectic manoeuvring that followed the sudden removal of these two vaccines:

 "Last week the GMSC was worried that the vaccination programme would be put back by the debacle over the new arrangements for supplying the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR). The CMO has apologised to the profession that the information that two brands of the MMR vaccine were to be withdrawn was leaked before the profession was told. The department had planned to give doctors 48 hours' notice. The information was leaked on 15 September and earlier in some places. But by the time of the MSC meeting (17 September) many members had still received no information. The department has advised doctors to return their stocks of Pluserix-MMR and Immravix [sic] and order extra supplies of MMR II.

"The chairman will draw the department's attention to the possible effect on vaccination target levels if parents are deterred from bringing their children to be vaccinated because of the adverse publicity. Dr Eric Rose suggested that the department should mount a publicity campaign on the virtues of the MMR and the Hib vaccines."

By contrast Evan Harris had written failing to recall the episode in the Sunday Times on 22 February 2004 (HERE):

"On the safety of MMR, the evidence and scientific consensus are overwhelming. There is a lot of good research that fails to find any significant safety problem with MMR..."

In the same article Harris made an accusation which apparently depended on sight of confidential patient records:

“At least four of the 10 patients paid for under legal aid were also apparently paid for by the health service.”

Without agreeing that Harris was correct in identifying the Lancet paper with protocol 172-96 which had been sponsored by the Legal Aid Board, it is hard to see how he could have formed this opinion or made such claims without reference to confidential patient documents.

Evan Harris’s close association with his father was attested in a Daily Telegraph report of the parliamentary expenses scandal when he sold on a flat, in part paid for by the tax payer, to his parents at a substantial profit (HERE).

As reported previously, Harris had worked closely with journalist Brian Deer in his “investigation” of Andrew Wakefield and colleagues John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch which led to their prosecution by the UK General Medical Council (HERE). He still needs to explain how he became involved in the affair, and what his views are on patient confidentiality.

John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.


Informed voter

When people are given the right information they ususally make the best decisions.

The people spoke

Congrats to all the people of the UK.

Crocodile Tears

Age of Autism readers will be interested to learn of Harris's loss of his parliamentary seat on Thursday night. Amanda Platell noted in the Daily Mail:-

"Election Noticeboard.

"Treat of the night: The Lib Dem health spokesman Evan Harris being booted out of his Oxford seat.

"Dubbed Dr Death for his vociferous support of voluntary euthanasia and reduced abortion time limits, Harris was possibly the nastiest man in politics.

"Whatever the chaos caused by this hung parliament, we can all sleep a bit safer now Dr Death has been buried at the ballot box."

John Stone


But interesting to note that, unreported by Harris, Wakefield had stated:

"At the time that the children reported in the 1998 Lancet paper were referred to Professor Walker-Smith for investigation of their gastrointestinal symptoms—the time material to their sequential investigation and subsequent inclusion in the report—none of the 12 reported children was in fact legally aided, ie, in receipt of legal aid certificates and therefore legal aid funding."

For Harris not to tell Sunday Times readers this was misleading.

Harris also failed to disclose in his House of Commons debate on MMR in 2004 that he was a Glaxo-Wellcome Fellow:

and he has collaborated closely with Deer who states on his website:

"For reference, with regard to Brian Deer's MMR investigation, almost all of the key facts and documents are not public domain, and, such is the culture of plagiarism, he will act against authors who represent his writing, interviews, documents, or other research, as the fruit of their own inquiries, whether referenced or not."

It remains a concern that patient records and legal documents are truly confidential, and not just confidential until it is politically expedient to turn a blind eye.

And as Richard Horton reported early on his book 'MMR Science and Fiction' Harris's role in this affair is unexplained:

“The tension had been heightened the shadowy presence of Evan Harris, a Liberal-Democrat MP.”


"A whirlwind of innuendo ensued which caught us all in its wake. Evan Harris, the MP who had mysteriously joined Brian Deer at the Lancet's offices, called for an independent inquiry into Wakefield's research."


The GMC's, ‘Good Medical Practice', guidance for doctors, states that "probity means being honest and trustworthy, and acting with integrity: this is at the heart of medical professionalism." It appears to me that Evan Harris has taken neither professionalism nor probity to heart in his treatment of a fellow professional. Shame on Harris.

John Stone


I wouldn't think this.


Thanks for pointing this out - I am sure you will agree with me that there is also a wider unresolved issue of the obtaining of confidential documents and the use then made of them.


You missed out the start of the '4 of 10' sentence, it says 'By Wakefields own admission...'

What could he be referring to, since he's talking about a Lancet response to Brian Deer...

"Once again, it is important to emphasise that I had no specific knowledge of the legal
status of the ten children on the [legal aid funded] list other than as described above. Investigations, in
light of the current allegations, indicate that four of these children (exact number to be
confirmed by Richard Barr) were among those reported in the [NHS funded] 1998 Lancet paper." -- Andrew Wakefield, statement in the Lancet's 20 Feb 2004 Press Release (2 days before the Harris article). The portions in square brackets added by me, but clear from the context.


John-- None of this happened that long ago, but considering how entangled the whole saga is and how much has been covered up with apparent tacit official consent, it's like you're doing forensic anthropology-- finding shards of bone and spear heads here and there and having to rebuild an ancient crime scene.

The painting on the piece of pottery your polishing right now appears to depict Harris supplying Brian Deer with protected patient information.

angus files

"Father Like Son" as the saying goes ..hey!! Evan look and learn..


I'm assuming this is the same Evan Harris in the background of this video of Jim Moody?

I can't get over the look on his face.


This is the tale of the fathers, the sons and the hack it seems, what with the other Brian Deer connection with Paul Nuki whose father George Nuki was also on the Committee on Safety in Medicines when the Urabe MMR was first introduced in Britain.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!"

John Stone


While interesting, I am not sure that this constitutes a conflict. I note also that back in 2004 Evan Harris requested a Public Inquiry rather than a GMC prosecution.


a quick google and a search on the GMC website reveals Frank Harris was working for the GMC upto the year 2000

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