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A GP whose expert report to a court highlighting the risks of immunisation of children was criticised as “junk science” by a senior judge has been cleared of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council.
Jayne Donegan, of Herne Hill, London, was accused of contravening her duty as a court witness by giving misleading impressions of the research she cited, quoting selectively, and failing to be objective, independent, and unbiased.
Dr Donegan wrote two reports for a case heard in 2002 in the family division of the High Court relating to two families who were unconnected but whose cases became linked in the courts.
In each case the father had sought to have his daughter immunised against the normal range of childhood diseases. Both girls' mothers, who opposed the vaccinations, instructed Dr Donegan as an expert witness. The fathers won the linked case and a subsequent appeal in 2003 (BMJ 2003;326:1351 doi: 10.1136/bmj.326.7403.1351-a).
At both the original hearing and the appeal the judges criticised Dr Donegan's evidence. Mr Justice Sumner said, “I am compelled to the reluctant conclusion that in this case Dr Donegan has allowed her deeply held feelings on the subject of immunisation to overrule the duty she owes to the court.”
At the appeal Lord Justice Sedley said: “Most of the published papers cited by her in support of her views turned out either to support the contrary position or at least to give no support to her own. Not to mince words, the court below was presented with junk science.”
Although the courts lodged no complaint, the GMC began an investigation and announced last October that Dr Donegan would face a charge of serious professional misconduct.
After a three week hearing in Manchester, which ended last week, the GMC panel concluded that all of the substantive charges against Dr Donegan were unproved except for the charge of quoting selectively from research. The panel declared, however, that “it is normal practice in the preparation of reports to quote selectively from references, which indeed you did.”
Dr Donegan agreed that she had cited research whose conclusions differed from her own, but the panel accepted her argument that she had performed her duty by providing the references.
Sheila Hewitt, who chaired the panel, told Dr Donegan: “The panel were sure that at no stage did you allow any views that you held to overrule your duty to the court and the litigants. You demonstrated to the panel that your report did not derive from your deeply held views, and your evidence supported this.”