Prominent NRI psychiatrist suspended from British medical register

April 1st, 2008 - 11:30 am ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 1 (IANS) A prominent NRI psychiatrist from Assam, who appeared on British television shows, has been suspended from the medical resister after being found guilty of a series of unethical practices over a six-year period. Tonmoy Sharma was found guilty of recruiting patients suffering from schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s in unsolicited telephone calls, conducting unauthorised tests and misleading drugs companies about his methods between 1997 and 2003.

The General Medical Council, a regulatory body has told him that his name will be “erased from the medical register” after 28 days unless he appeals the suspension.

“If you appeal, the immediate suspension will remain in force until the substantive direction takes effect,” the GMC’s Fitness to Practice Panel, which heard his case last week, said in its final ruling Sunday.

The suspension was needed “for the protection of members of the public,” said the ruling, seen by IANS.

Sharma, a high-profile psychiatrist who appeared on the BBC and wrote several books on mental illness, wrongly recruited patients in unsolicited telephone calls without contacting their nurses or carers. After being paid to conduct the tests by drug companies, he failed to seek proper approval from medical bodies and then misled the companies about his methods.

The GMC panel said Sharma, a former lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, had falsely described himself as a professor with a PhD degree.

“You described yourself as ‘Tonmoy Sharma MD PhD’ on websites, including that of a company in which you had a controlling interest. You had not been awarded a PhD… The Panel has found your conduct in wrongly representing that you had such a respected qualification to be dishonest and unprofessional.”

At another place in its 16-page ruling, it said: “Your conduct falls significantly short of the standards to be expected of a medical practitioner undertaking medical research on human subjects.”

The panel found that Sharma had misled patients into believing that he had the permission of the prestigious Institute of Psychiatry and Maudsley Hospital to conduct medical tests, whereas he did not.

In one case, the panel noted: “Although the study was unconnected with the Institute of Psychiatry there was unauthorised use of Institute of Psychiatry headed paper and other documentation.

“The Panel has found that there was a risk that patients would be misled by your conduct into believing that the study in which they were participating was conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, a very prestigious institution.”

The investigation into Sharma began after the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry suspected he was conducting tests without the authorisation of ethical committees.

Leading drug companies such as Novartis and Sanofi paid him from 1996 to conduct trials of antipsychotic drugs on patients with schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to media reports, his work at the Institute of Psychiatry and at Maudsley helped him secure funding of nearly a million pounds from five drug companies. Most of the money was said to have been channelled through his own private company, Psychmed.

However, the panel acknowledged that Sharma is “a research psychiatrist of international repute, that you have published a substantial number of papers and that you have contributed significantly towards the advancement of medical science. This has been widely reflected in current clinical care.”

“There is no evidence before the Panel to demonstrate that your actions have caused direct harm to patients or their families…”

Nevertheless, the case could prompt the pharmaceutical industry to re-examine the way in which research on psychiatric drugs is commissioned and conducted.

Sharma completed his MBBS from Dibrugarh University, Assam, in June 1987 and had been on Britain’s register of general psychiatry since May 1996.

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