Dr Peter Wheeler, 68, (pictured with his wife) has apologised after admitting a series of mistakes that lead to the death of Stefanos Vavalidis’ in 2016
Princess Diana’s personal physician has admitted to a series of medical blunders that led to one of his patient’s being ‘poisoned’ to death.
Dr Peter Wheeler, 68, who identified Diana’s body and has also treated Prince Charles, the Duke of Kent, and a host of celebrities, was charged with professional misconduct over the death of Greek banker Stefanos Vavalidis, 69.
Mr Vavalidis’s lawyer claims his decision to prescribe him methotrexate, a potentially toxic cancer drug, for his psoriasis, meant he was ‘slowly poisoned drip by drip by drip’ in what he describes as one of the ‘worst cases of repeated, persistent negligent care’.
The Medical Practioners Tribunal Service in Manchester heard Mr Vavalidis, a former director of the National Bank of Greece, suffered from acute liver damage after Wheeler prescribed him the drug to treat his psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis over 12 years.
The banker was correctly treated with the drug by a dermatologist in 1999, but when Wheeler took over in 2003, he gave him 23 repeat prescriptions without studying the medication guidelines or ordering any tests to monitor the effect of the drug on his liver.
Mr Vavalidis was said to have ‘suffered gravely’ before his death, finding it difficult to climb stairs as his immune system gradually weakened.
He fell ill during a family holiday to Athens in May 2015 and was diagnosed with liver disease, cirrhosis, hepatitis, progressive bone marrow failure and acute gastrointestinal bleeding.
He was flown back to the UK by air ambulance but died at University College Hospital in London in January 2016 with tests showing he had died from cirrhosis of the liver due to methotrexate toxicity.
At the tribunal, Wheeler admitted failing to seek advice on whether to continue prescribing the toxic drug after the banker began to suffer from colds and coughs, as well as failing to monitor his blood count, renal and liver function regularly.
He also admitted to failing to keep adequate records, the tribunal heard.
Mr Vavalidis, a former director of the National Bank of Greece (left), suffered from acute liver damage after Wheeler, prescribed him with methotrexate, a potentially toxic cancer medication to treat psoriasis over 12 years. Wheeler was a private doctor to Princess Diana
Wheeler, who works for an exclusive practice in London’s Sloane Street, is currently facing a disciplinary hearing which could see him struck off.
He is also subject to a £300,000 damages claim from Mr Vavalidis’ family, who had also been his patients since 1984.
Lawyer for the General Medical Council Chloe Fordham told the hearing Wheeler had many failings in his handling of Mr Vavalidis, from obtaining advice on the medication, the side effects and dosage, as well as keeping records.
Miss Fordham said Mr Vavalidis should have stopped taking the medication and referred to a blood disease specialist, but ‘Dr Wheeler took no action and continued to prescribe the same drug,’ she said.
Wheeler told the hearing he did not have many face to face consultations with the patient, not at least until 2012 when he met with him for minor viruses and viral infections, which are usually the symptoms of methotrexate.
He admitted there was a ‘gap in his testing’ and said that he sent him a letter explaining he was going to be making further checks, but failed to do so saying: ‘I cannot find any explanation as to why that was not done.’
Wheeler said that he accepted full responsibility for the patient’s death, telling the hearing: ‘It was always my responsibility, not his. There has been changes made to the IT systems and the policies at the surgery. My remorse is absolutely genuine.’
‘I was aware the drug needed specific testing but I had not had much experience with it, not as a GP anyway. I should have done more, I accept that, but I didn’t do that.
‘As a professional I have provided a high standard of care and I am devastated by what had happened in the care of the patient. I have profound regret for the mistakes I made.’
At an inquest in November 2016 into Mr Vavalidis’ death Wheeler admitted he did not read the prescribing guidelines for the drug.
He later said Mr Vavalidis would still have died of liver failure as he was obese and diabetic but confessed the banker might have lived another 18 months were it not for his mistakes.
His widow Barbara, who was married to him for 45 years, believes if proper monitoring and investigations had been carried out, a liver biopsy would have been performed in 2006.
She claims Wheeler’s failure to suspend the prescribing of methotrexate led to her husband’s death. The hearing continues.