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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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BBC Scotland's Rob Flett reports
"GPs face changes in working practices to restore confidence"
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Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 14:35 GMT
Shipman case prompts tighter GP rules

Dr Shipman The Shipman case spurred ministers to act

The Scottish Executive has promised to tighten up procedures to remove doctors from National Health Service lists if found guilty of serious crimes.

The announcement came in the wake of the conviction of Greater Manchester doctor Harold Shipman for the murder of 15 patients.

The Shipman murders
The UK Government has faced calls to tighten up guidelines after it emerged that the general practitioner, who had previous drug convictions, was allowed to practice unhindered.

Scottish Health Minister Susan Deacon said the executive would improve procedures for removing GPs found to be guilty of serious crimes.

GP visiting patient Closer monitoring of GPs
It would also make it harder for potential GPs to conceal any past convictions when applying to practice.

The Scottish minister's move came ahead of the setting up of an inquiry into the Shipman case by Health Secretary Alan Milburn and after the Scottish General Practitioners' Committee's calls for a review of procedures.

The SGPC, part of the British Medical Assocation in Scotland, urged:

  • Increased monitoring of doctors known to have problems which could affect their work

  • A review of procedures for certifying deaths

  • Tighter regulations on GPs' handling of controlled drugs

SGPC chairman, Dr Kenneth Harden, 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.

"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.

'Danger of over-reaction'

"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.

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."

Dr Kenneth Harden Dr Kenneth Harden: "Danger of an over-reaction"
But 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:
01 Feb 00 |  Scotland
GPs' leader backs guidelines review
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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