Eastell suspended as finances are queried

May 13, 2005

Richard Eastell, the medical scientist under investigation for alleged research misconduct at Sheffield University, has been suspended from his role as director of research at his local National Health Service trust over separate allegations of financial irregularity.

The Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust confirmed this week that Professor Eastell, professor of bone metabolism at Sheffield University's School of Medicine, had been suspended as research director "while we investigate allegations of financial irregularity regarding charging of tests carried out for research purposes".

Details of the nature of the allegations regarding Professor Eastell's NHS role were not clear as The Times Higher went to press, and the NHS trust would not clarify its prepared statement.

A representative of the NHS trust, said: "It is our usual procedure to suspend staff while any allegations are looked into, and we must state that suspension is a neutral act - agreed between trust and employee - to allow the issue to be properly investigated.

"Our internal audit team is now looking into the case and hopes to conclude investigations as soon as possible.

"The suspension does not affect Professor Eastell's clinical work as an honorary consultant with the trust or impact on the trust's ongoing research portfolio."

A Sheffield University representative said: "We consider that, at this stage, this is a matter between the trust and Professor Eastell and do not consider it appropriate for us to comment further while the trust investigation is under way."

Professor Eastell said: "I don't have any further comment at this time."

The trust's announcement comes just two weeks after The Times Higher reported that Professor Eastell was involved in an investigation at his university, which has so far lasted almost 20 months.

The investigation followed a complaint by Aubrey Blumsohn, a senior lecturer in Professor Eastell's research group.

Dr Blumsohn's complaint, which was made in September 2003, centres on the fact that Professor Eastell sponsored and signed off a research grant application, which secured £475,000 from an arthritis charity, on behalf of Jackie Clowes, a junior colleague in the research group.

Dr Blumsohn's complaint was that the grant application was based substantially on his work and that it had been used without acknowledgement and in spite of his objections.

The successful application in question was made by Clowes to the Arthritis Research Campaign.

 

'HANDING THE FELLOWSHIP BACK WILL DO US CONSIDERABLE DAMAGE'

Sheffield University waited 14 months before informing the Arthritis Research Campaign that allegations of research misconduct had been raised about the £475,000 fellowship it had awarded to the university's medical school.

Aubrey Blumsohn first complained to the university in September 2003 and an investigation began. But it has now emerged that the university waited until November 2004 to tell the charity that questions had been raised over Jackie Clowes's fellowship.

This was a year after the charity released the £475,000 to the school and eight months after the university's own internal review panel concluded that there was a "prima facie" case for Dr Clowes and Richard Eastell to answer.

Gordon Duff, the medical school's director of genomic medicine, headed the review panel that reported in March 2004.

A document seen by The Times Higher shows the university's medical school dean, Tony Weetman, wrote an email to Rosie Valerio, the human resources director, in March 2004: "Handing the fellowship back will do us considerable damage, although it might be an ultimate price to pay." Within weeks of the Duff report, Professor Weetman "set aside" its findings, as Professor Eastell had claimed that he was never given the full written original allegations against him.

Dr Blumsohn raised a grievance against the decision to "set aside" the Duff report. A grievance panel ruled in October 2004 that while they had been "set aside" in good faith, the findings should be allowed to stand.

Yet, according to a document seen by The Times Higher , the arthritis charity was not told about the concerns over its £475,000 grant until almost two weeks after the grievance panel reported.

The ARC said this week: "Although we have been informed about these allegations separately by all of the protagonists, we have not received any official notification by the university, either about the allegations themselves or the result of any investigation.

"From this, we can only assume that no firm conclusions have been reached.

This investigation is the responsibility of the university, and we would not wish to prejudice this by taking our own uninformed view at this time."

A university representative said that the charity had "made it clear" that it was "content" with the university's approach to the internal investigation and that it would await its outcome.

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