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Family take legal action against Sloane Street doctor following death of beloved husband and father

The family of Stefanos Vavalidis are pursuing a legal claim against his private GP, Dr Peter Wheeler, following the death of Mr Vavalidis from liver failure in January 2016 at the age of 69.

Posted on 10 August 2017

Dr Wheeler worked from Sloane Street Surgery and had been the family’s GP for over 30 years. 

Russell Levy, head of law firm Leigh Day’s clinical negligence team, representing the family comments:

“I have been specialising in medical negligence since 1985 and in my opinion this is the worst case of repeated, persistent negligent care I have come across. Due to the severity of the case it has been referred to the General Medical Council and to the Metropolitan Police.”

Mr Vavalidis was initially prescribed methotrexate (which is known potentially to be highly toxic) for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis by a dermatologist in 1999. Mr Vavalidis’ care, including the prescribing, was taken over by Peter Wheeler in 2003. At the November 2016 inquest, Wheeler admitted he did not read the prescribing guidelines for the drug.

At no time between 2006 and 2015 did Peter Wheeler request that Mr Vavalidis undergo any tests to monitor the effect of the methotrexate on his liver. Mr Vavalidis’ health deteriorated throughout that period. In May, 2015 his wife Barbara Vavalidis became so concerned she went to see Peter Wheeler herself to discuss her husband’s seriously declining health. However, she was told by Peter Wheeler that perhaps Mr Vavalidis was not looking after himself well enough. He took no investigative action. Soon after, Mr Vavalidis fell ill on a family holiday in Greece, was repatriated to the UK and passed away in London in January 2016.

It is the family’s case that if proper monitoring and investigations had been carried out a liver biopsy would have been performed in 2006 and thus the prescribing of methotrexate would have ceased.

They believe that Peter Wheeler’s failure to monitor Mr Vavalidis’ condition properly or at all over a period of 12 years and the failure to suspend or cease the prescribing of methotrexate led to Mr Vavalidis’ death. 

Peter Wheeler has admitted a number of the failings put to him in the legal case including the failure to arrange any blood testing between March 2006 and 2013, failing to review the British National Formulary medical guidance or speak to the dermatologist in 2003 and failure to make any enquiries or investigations following a low platelet count in 2013/2014. However, Dr Wheeler denies a number of other the allegations in the legal case and a civil trial is due to be held in May 2018.

Mrs Vavalidis said: “By continuing to prescribe methotrexate, Stefanos was being slowly poisoned, ultimately resulting in his death. It is heart-breaking enough for my sons to lose their father and me to lose my husband of forty-five years, but to find out that it was preventable was a huge shock.”

Russell Levy added: “All GPs have to abide by strict prescribing guidelines. Peter Wheeler should have known that methotrexate is a dangerous drug and should have been monitoring Mr Vavalidis for potential side effects. 

“What was clear from Mr Vavalidis’ inquest was that the Sloane Street Surgery, where Wheeler practices, did not seem to have any prescribing safeguards in place, either through prescribing software or by any other means. These safeguards, which are standard in NHS practices, would have raised alarms and prevented the drug from being prescribed.”

The Vavalidis family comments: “People think that when they go to a private GP it will be at least as safe as the NHS. We felt we were in safe hands but that turned out to be totally untrue. 

“Our aim now is alert people of what has happened to us and to try to prevent anyone else suffering the same truly awful loss that we have faced. To us this case raises clear questions about whether the regulators – the Care Quality Commission, who gave the Surgery a five-star rating and the General Medical Council, which has not yet stepped in to suspend Peter Wheeler’s license – are doing enough to ensure that private GPs are practicing safely and providing suitable care to their patients.

“Millions of private GP consultations take place in the UK each year so it is vitally important private GP practices are open to greater and more effective scrutiny than currently seems to be the case."