Diana’s GP can keep work­ing de­spite er­rors that led to City banker’s death

Daily Mail - - Life - By James Tozer and Tom Raw­storne

PRINCESS Diana’s pri­vate physi­cian will be al­lowed to con­tinue prac­tis­ing de­spite a se­ries of blun­ders in treat­ing a top City banker.

Dr Peter Wheeler, 68, was found guilty of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct af­ter the widow of Ste­fanos Vava­lidis claimed her husband had been ‘slowly poi­soned drip by drip by drip’.

Dr Wheeler ad­mit­ted he should have or­dered reg­u­lar tests af­ter pre­scrib­ing anti- can­cer med­i­ca­tion for a skin con­di­tion de­spite warn­ings of harm­ful side-ef­fects.

Father-of-two Mr Vava­lidis even­tu­ally fell ill on a fam­ily hol­i­day to Athens in 2015 and was di­ag­nosed with liver dis­ease, bone mar­row fail­ure and acute gas­troin­testi­nal bleed­ing. He died in hos­pi­tal aged 69, eight months af­ter be­ing air­lifted back to Lon­don.

Pri­vate GP Dr Wheeler – whose pa­tients have in­cluded Prince Charles, the Duke of Kent, TV cook Nigella Law­son, ac­tor An­thony An­drews and pre­sen­ter Anne Di­a­mond – faced the threat of be­ing struck off over the case.

How­ever a dis­ci­plinary panel con­cluded yes­ter­day that while his per­for­mance ‘ fell se­ri­ously be­low the stan­dards ex­pected’ and amounted to mis­con­duct, his fit­ness to prac­tise medicine was not im­paired.

Med­i­cal Prac­ti­tion­ers Tri­bunal Ser­vice panel chair­man Lind­say Irvine high­lighted Dr Wheeler’s ‘ex­cep­tional ef­forts’ to ad­dress his short­com­ings plus ex­ten­sive changes to sys­tems at his prac­tice in Knights­bridge, West Lon­don.

The panel also took ac­count of Dr Wheeler’s ‘prompt ac­cep­tance of his re­spon­si­bil­ity’ and had been ‘im­pressed by sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence of re­morse and con­tri­tion’, Mr Irvine said.

The hear­ing is ex­pected to con­sider to­day whether to im­pose a warn­ing on his reg­is­tra­tion.

Mr Vava­lidis, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Bank of Greece, was given the anti-can­cer med­i­ca­tion methotrex­ate for pso­ri­a­sis and pso­ri­atic arthri­tis by a der­ma­tol­o­gist in 1999, the hear­ing in Manch­ester was told.

But when Dr Wheeler took over his care in 2003, he gave Mr Vava­had

‘Ar­ro­gance and neg­li­gence’

lidis 23 re­peat pre­scrip­tions with­out ar­rang­ing for reg­u­lar checks on his blood platelet count and his kid­ney and liver func­tion that would have shown the Greek fi­nancier’s im­mune sys­tem was slowly shut­ting down.

Dr Wheeler – who in 1997 of­fi­cially iden­ti­fied Princess Diana’s body when it was brought back from France – told the hear­ing he had been ‘dev­as­tated’ by what hap­pened, ex­press­ing ‘pro­found re­gret for the mis­takes I made’.

Mary O’Rourke QC, rep­re­sent­ing Dr Wheeler, said the in­ci­dent been a ‘ blot on an un­blem­ished ca­reer’ and that he in­tended to re­tire this year. De­spite the bad pub­lic­ity, his pa­tients had stood by him. ‘They love him and be­lieve in him,’ she said.

Chloe Ford­ham, for the Gen­eral Med­i­cal Coun­cil, said Dr Wheeler had shown ar­ro­gance, over-as­sured­ness and a blasé at­ti­tude.

‘The pa­tient should have been told to stop tak­ing the med­i­ca­tion and should have been re­ferred to a spe­cial­ist in blood dis­ease,’ she said. But the panel con­cluded that while it was a ‘se­ri­ous de­par­ture’ from good med­i­cal prac­tice, it oc­curred ‘in the con­text of a sin­gle pa­tient in an oth­er­wise ex­em­plary 38-year ca­reer as a GP’.

It added that it could not be cer­tain that Dr Wheeler’s ac­tions di­rectly caused any harm.

An in­quest in 2016 found that Mr Vava­lidis’s death from liver cir­rho­sis was ‘most prob­a­bly as­so­ci­ated with tox­i­c­ity’ from methotrex­ate.

His widow Bar­bara, 68, who sued Dr Wheeler as well as lodg­ing a com­plaint with the GMC, claims her husband ‘suf­fered an al­most in­sid­i­ous build-up of health prob­lems’ from the drug.

She said: ‘That was the na­ture of be­ing poi­soned – drip by drip by drip – over this very long pe­riod. It’s heart-break­ing enough to lose your part­ner of 45 years but a com­plete shock and hor­ror when we found it had been to­tally avoid­able. The duty of a doc­tor is to pro­tect pa­tients from harm. That’s not what we got.’

De­fend­ing the le­gal ac­tion, Dr Wheeler re­port­edly ad­mit­ted failing to mon­i­tor his pa­tient prop­erly but claimed that Mr Vava­lidis, who was obese and di­a­betic, would have died of liver fail­ure and could have sur­vived only an­other 18 months.

The banker’s widow and two sons main­tain he would have lived much longer and ac­cused Dr Wheeler of ‘ar­ro­gance, pro­longed care­less­ness and neg­li­gence’. The Daily Mail un­der­stands that the case was set­tled by Dr Wheeler’s in­sur­ers be­fore it reached court, with the fam­ily re­ceiv­ing a high six-fig­ure sum in com­pen­sa­tion.

Father-of-four Dr Wheeler qual­i­fied from Kings Col­lege Hos­pi­tal Med­i­cal School in 1975 and spent sev­eral years in hos­pi­tal medicine be­fore be­com­ing a pri­vate GP.

In 1981 he joined The Sloane Street Surgery. Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, pa­tients there can ex­pect to pay up­wards of £170 for a 15minute con­sul­ta­tion. A one-hour med­i­cal costs £380.

Re­morse: Dr Peter Wheeler and his wife Gil­lian at the dis­ci­plinary hear­ing. In­set: Ste­fanos Vava­lidis

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.