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SGPC Chairman Dr Kenneth Harden
"There are aspects around the monitoring of deaths that we need to look at"
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Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 11:09 GMT
GPs' leader backs guidelines review

Dr Shipman Dr Shipman's case prompted calls for a review

The chairman of the Scottish General Practitioners' Committee has called for a review of doctors' guidelines following the conviction of GP Dr Harold Shipman.

The UK Government is due to set up an independent inquiry to examine how the Greater Manchester doctor was able to murder 15 of his patients.

The Shipman murders
However, it is not yet clear whether there will be implicatons for GPs in Scotland as health is a matter devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Dr Kenneth Harden, of the SGPC, said that while there should be no over-reaction to what was a highly unusual case, Scottish procedures should be subject to review in order to ensure public confidence.

He said: "It is important to recognise in this situation that we are dealing with someone who had a uniquely warped mind.

GP visiting patient Concerns over public confidence
"In this situation there are two dangers. The danger first is avoiding complacency and we have already been in contact with the Scottish Executive to ensure there is a considered reaction to this.

"And secondly there is another danger of an over-reaction and that the trust that has been built up with the public would be allowed to be diminished. That would be an equally great tragedy."

Dr Harden stressed that the involvement of procurators fiscal in the event of sudden unexplained deaths in Scotland provided an extra saferguard against malpractice by GPs.

Strongly advised

He said: "General practitioners, in the event of an unexpected death, are strongly advised to contact the procurator fiscal to discuss the case with them."

But he said the SGPC was approaching Health Minister Susan Deacon to discuss ways of creating "greater confidence" in GPs.

This included a system of "monitoring" GPs known to have a probelm which could affect their work.

Doctor and woman Efforts to ensure confidence in doctors
"Doctor Shipman was known to have a drug abuse problem and we need to look at how the situation can arise that such doctors can have no monitoring," said Dr Harden.

Dr Harden advocated changes in the certification of deaths and the handling of controlled drugs by doctors.

He expressed concern that the number of cremation referees - officials who check whether or not a cremation can go ahead - was decreasing when they played an important part in the certificaton of deaths.

Dr Harden said: "I'm confident in Scotland in many areas that a cremation referee might have potentially identified a problem ( in the Shipman case) but sadly they are a diminishing group and that's one of the areas we need to look at."

The leading doctor also called for a centralised point where all deaths in Scotland would be registered.

"For more than one patient to die in a doctor's surgery in a doctor's lifetime would be extremely unusual and I think there are aspects around that degree of monitoring of deaths and particularly the certification of deaths that we need to look at in a considered way," he said.

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Listen to unique police interviews with Shipman - plus other key reports

See also:
31 Jan 00 |  The Shipman files
How many did Shipman kill?
31 Jan 00 |  The Shipman files
Profile of a killer doctor
31 Jan 00 |  UK
Hyde - a community in shock
31 Jan 00 |  The Shipman files
Shipman joins Britain's chamber of horrors
31 Jan 00 |  The Shipman files
The 15 victims

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