Former British Cycling Doctor Denies Putting Own Ambition Before Riders' Safety

Ian Leonard

November 13, 2020

Editor's note, 16 November 2020: This article was updated for clarity.

MANCHESTER—A former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor has been accused of putting his own ambitions before the welfare of the elite cyclists in his care.

Dr Richard Freeman is said to have put riders' performance "above medical ethics" due to the pressures of the role, and in order to demonstrate that he wasn't just a "GP with a stethoscope".

He appeared at a fitness to practice hearing before a Medical Practioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) panel where he's accused of ordering banned testosterone to the national velodrome in May 2011 "knowing or believing" it was intended to boost an unknown athlete's performance.

 

Bullying

Dr Freeman admits placing the order - consisting of 30 Testogel testosterone sachets - but denies it was used to dope a rider.

He claims he was "bullied" into making the order by head cycling coach Shane Sutton to help treat Mr Sutton's erectile dysfunction.

But Mr Sutton has denied this, claiming Dr Freeman is lying.

Simon Jackson QC for the General Medical Council said: "The GMC’s case is that you did that [place the order] because you were an ambitious doctor under pressure and you wanted to show you got good results with riders and pushed beyond the line.

"You used Shane Sutton as a scapegoat to cover up your own dishonesty as evidenced by your lying and putting patient performance before their health."

Ethics

Mr Jackson said that the doctor had "put patient performance above medical ethics", adding: "I suggest that you were keen to demonstrate you weren't a GP with a stethoscope and wanted to give riders what they wanted, that's why you ordered the Testogel."

Dr Freeman denied this and said he was caring for "elite" sportsman who took risks and he had to assess whether they were "minor" or "major" risks.

"They are driven people and I'm there to protect the riders' health. They're patients first, riders second," he said.

Mr Jackson questioned Dr Freeman's claims as to why he'd placed the order saying it wasn't "appropriate" or "clinically indicated" for Mr Sutton and he'd never even examined him.

But Dr Freeman said that prescribing licensed drugs for off-label use was "very, very common" in medicine.

He said the benefits of testosterone for ageing men and its use in treating hypogonadism had been pushed extensively in the US as far back as 2011.

Patient Confidentiality

Earlier in the hearing, which took place in Manchester, Dr Freeman apologised for not telling Mr Sutton why he'd asked him to waive his patient confidentiality.

Dr Freeman had sent a letter to Mr Sutton in February 2017 after being interviewed twice as part of a UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation.

Mr Jackson quizzed Dr Freeman about why the letter had failed to mention the UKAD investigation or that they’d requested confirmation the Testogel was for a non-athlete member of staff, therefore requiring Mr Sutton to waive his patient confidentiality so his name and medical records could be disclosed.

Mr Jackson asked Dr Freeman: "Do you think it was fair to Mr Sutton to describe those interviews as a meeting rather than a formal investigation?"

Dr Freeman replied: "I was asked [by UKAD] to explain an order I'd made it 2011."

Mr Jackson again questioned why the letter had made no mention of the Testogel, even though he was asking Mr Sutton to waive patient confidentiality.

"Do you agree the letter sent to the non-rider did not adequately explain what the request was about?" he said.

Dr Freeman said the letter had been drafted by his solicitor Simon Eastwood in accordance with UKAD's request but the content "could have been improved" and that he wanted to apologise.

Mr Jackson said Dr Freeman made other attempts to get Mr Sutton to waive his patient confidentiality, contacting him by text but Mr Sutton had refused.

The doctor has admitted 18 of 22 charges against him, which include lying about the order by persuading an employee of the medical supplier Fit4Sport to cover his tracks, and lying to the UKAD investigation.

The four charges he denies all relate to the central charge.

The hearing continues next week.

Ian Leonard is a freelance journalist experienced in covering MPTS hearings.

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