Medical advice on Libyan bomber 'in doubt'

JUSTICE secretary Kenny MacAskill was last night under pressure to reveal more details of the medical evidence that led to the release of the Lockerbie bomber, after it emerged that only one doctor was willing to say Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi had less than three months to live.

Labour and Conservative politicians have demanded the Scottish Government publish details of the doctor's expertise and qualifications, amid suggestions he or she may not have been a prostate cancer expert.

The parties have also raised questions over whether the doctor was employed by the Libyan government or Megrahi's legal team, which could have influenced the judgment.

The evidence provided by the doctor is crucial as compassionate release under Scots law requires that a prisoner has less than three months to live.

Doubts about Megrahi's life expectancy have already been raised by American relatives of the 270 victims of the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988. But last night the Scottish Government said it would not publish details of the individual who gave the crucial advice.

Mr MacAskill has said he based his decision to release Megrahi on the opinions of a range of experts.

But this is contradicted by a decisive report sent to Mr MacAskill on 10 August.

While it noted that four prostate cancer specialists – two oncologists and two urologists – were consulted, the summary said: "Whether or not prognosis is more or less than three months, no specialist would be willing to say."

The report suggests that only one doctor was willing to support the claim that Megrahi had just weeks to live.

The medical report stated that the "less than three months to live" prognosis was: "In the opinion of Megrahi's (the name or title of the individual was then blanked out] … who has dealt with him prior to, during and following the diagnosis."

There was also a suggestion that Megrahi might not be as ill as had been claimed. The report said: "Clinicians who have assessed Mr Megrahi have commented on his relative lack of symptoms when considering the severity and stage of underlying disease."

And suggestions that the doctor who gave the prognosis may have been employed by the Libyan government emerged in the report's notes. It said that a professor from Libya had been involved in Megrahi's care and the medical officer who wrote the report had been "working with clinicians from Libya over the past ten months".

The report also said Megrahi met the conditions for early release, but fell short of making a specific recommendation.

Opposition parties claimed this left important question marks over the quality of the medical advice. They now want clarification on the doctor's expertise and qualifications, and whether he or she was employed by the NHS, the Libyans or Megrahi's legal team.

Last night a spokesman for the Conservatives said that the Scottish Government must now identify the doctor.

He said: "This is no ordinary case of patient confidentiality. This is the background to a very important decision so the normal rules do not apply here.

"At the very least, we must know the qualifications of this doctor, whose opinion was clearly crucial, the only one to say that Megrahi had a life expectancy of less than three months.

"It appears from the report that he was not a specialist. We also need to know if he works for the NHS or was employed by the Libyans or Megrahi."

The calls for details of the doctor's employers, experience and qualifications have been echoed by Labour health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson, who is a former associate member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and its Prostate Cancer Working Group.

In parliament on Monday, Dr Simpson said that his reading of the notes suggested Megrahi may have eight months left, not the three months or less on which Mr MacAskill said he based his decision.

"I hope that with effective palliative care al-Megrahi will survive and have effective symptom control for a longer period than three months," Dr Simpson said. "However, this does call into question the grounds for his release on compassionate grounds.

"It is clear to me from the medical reports and the opinion of the specialists that Megrahi could live for many more months. Kenny MacAskill released him apparently on the advice of just one doctor, whose status is not clear and who is not named.

"At the very least, before agreeing to release a prisoner convicted of such a serious crime on compassionate grounds, the minister should have sought a second opinion confirming the patient's prognosis from a specialist in palliative care."

But despite promises that Mr MacAskill will publish "all relevant documentation" once permission has been received from the parties involved, a source close to the justice secretary said this would not include information about the doctor – including his or her name and qualifications.

He also called Dr Simpson's comments "tasteless". He added: "I really don't think we should be speculating on the day somebody is going to die."

A Scottish Government justice spokeswoman again insisted Mr MacAskill had relied on a range of evidence rather than the opinion of one doctor.

"The medical advice before the justice secretary consisted of a report from the Scottish Prison Service director of health and care, who had access to all Mr al-Megrahi's medical records.

"That report is clear. Taking all the medical advice into account, the director's view is that 'the clinical assessment is that a three-month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate for this patient'," she said.

"It was on that clear medical advice and a recommendation from the governor and the parole board, that Mr al-Megrahi be released on compassionate grounds, that the justice secretary based his decision."

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