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