Team Sky search for new medical chief as testosterone investigation continues

Team Sky are reportedly searching for a new clinical director as they brace themselves for the outcome of the British General Medical Council investigation into former team doctor Richard Freeman and a delivery of testosterone patches to the Manchester headquarters that the team shared with British Cycling.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Richard Usher has been appointed interim medical director to allow Team Sky to find a new clinical director. Former medical chief Steve Peters is now listed simply as 'psychiatrist' on the Team Sky website. The Daily Mail suggests Team Sky are looking for a clinical director without previous links to cycling after being criticised for hiring former Rabobank doctor Geert Leinders in 2011. Leinders was later banned for life by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

Team Sky have been fighting to defend their reputation since allegations of wrongdoing arose in 2016. No doping charges were eventually made against Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky and British Cycling over the so-called Jiffy bag package and other allegations, but Team Sky and British Cycling faced criticism from both UK Anti-Doping and British MPs for their poorly organised medical practices.

Team Sky denied giving banned substances to riders for non-medical reasons but the Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee concluded that they had 'crossed an ethical line'. Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford has always refused to comment on the outcome of the DCMS investigation.

Freeman is set to face a GMC medical tribunal in the New Year concerning the 2011 delivery of testosterone patches to the British Cycling and Team Sky headquarters. The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) could punish him with a suspension or remove him from the medical register.

British Cycling is a co-complainant in the GMC inquiry but is concerned about the fallout from the case. A spokesman said they "referred concerns in relation to Dr Richard Freeman's fitness to practice" to the GMC and "continue to support its on-going investigation".

Team Sky did not immediately respond when contacted by Cyclingnews.

Testosterone is a banned substance but has often been abused in professional cycling to help recovery because it is difficult to detect.

In March, the Daily Mail reported that the General Medical Council investigation had obtained evidence suggesting the testosterone patches were ordered by a senior member of the medical staff from the nearby Fit 4 Sport company. Peters told the Sunday Times that the patches had been sent in error, while Freeman gave evidence to UK-Anti-Doping and told the BBC that the patches were not administered to athletes.

Freeman resigned from his position at British Cycling last October, citing ill health after refusing to be publicly questioned by the DCMS Committee. He published a book in the summer and is hoping to return as a general medical practitioner.

"I was with a colleague when the order arrived and it was immediately brought to our attention. Dr Freeman, who was responsible for ordering medical supplies, explained that the order had never been placed and so must have been sent in error," Peters told the Sunday Times.

"He contacted the supplier by phone the same day and they confirmed this. I asked Dr Freeman to repack and return it to the supplier, and to make sure they provided written confirmation that it was sent in error and had been received. That confirmation arrived and was shown to me by Dr Freeman. I was satisfied that this was simply an administrative error and it wasn't necessary to escalate it further, and so Dave Brailsford was not made aware."

A copy of the confirmation document has never been made public.

Last week the GMC confirmed they have the power to demand the relevant documentation for the order and subsequent delivery of the testosterone patches.

"Section 35A of the Medical Act means that the GMC has the power to require disclosure of information from a practitioner or any other person. This wider power to require disclosure of any document would include prescriptions and medical orders," the GMC said in a statement published by the Daily Mail.

"We can't pre-empt the outcome of an investigation or what sanction might or might not be applied to a case. Each case is considered individually on its merits. If we believe there is a realistic prospect that a doctor's fitness to practice might be found impaired by a tribunal we would refer them to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). It would then be for the tribunal, which makes decisions independently of the GMC, to make a decision on the facts of the individual case, then whether the doctor's fitness to practise is impaired and if so, what sanction, if any, should apply.

"As well as the facts of a case, issues such as a doctor's insight and remediation also play an important role in tribunals' decisions relating to impairment and sanction."

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