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Dealing with criminal doctors
The GMC acts once a doctor has been convicted
Even behind bars, Dr Shipman remains a registered medical practitioner - but moves now start to strike him off.

By themselves, criminal convictions of any sort have no direct bearing on the theoretical right of a UK doctor to carrying on practising.

That right is governed by the General Medical Council (GMC), which is responsible for protecting patients by ensuring that all doctors are fit to practice. In theory, it's part of the UK legal system.

If the police are not involved, then the GMC carries out its own investigations into allegations of misconduct.

Dr Shipman will be struck off
This may lead to a full hearing in which the doctor involved can mount a defence against the charges.

However, if found guilty, the doctor can be struck off or be suspended.

The GMC will not run its own investigation alongside that of the police - it does not have the resources or time to do it.

Instead, in serious cases an interim suspension is handed out so a doctor cannot practice in the meantime, and any subsequent court ruling is accepted as fact.

Worst criminals struck off

A few months after a guilty verdict comes in, the GMC meets to pass judgement on the doctor's future right to practice.

Generally, if the offence has any bearing on the potential safety of patients, such as sexual crimes or those involving violence, the doctor is struck off - the hearing is essentially a rubber-stamping affair.

Then, even after leaving prison, it is illegal for him or her to treat patients in the UK unless restored to the medical register.

Doctors can go abroad and practice - Kent surgeon Rodney Ledward, was alleged to be still working in the Middle East despite being struck off for serious professional misconduct after a series of botched gynaecological operations.

However, the GMC may consider that some crimes do not have a bearing on patient welfare, or are minor enough not to merit the removal of a doctor's livelihood.

When Dr Shipman was convicted of drugs offences in the 1970s, he was not struck off - although GMC leaders have indicated that a similar case might well have had a different outcome today.

Now however, his case is clear cut and it will only be a formality at a later date to remove his registration.

A doctor can apply after two years for registration to be restored, but this is never granted for those convicted of the most serious criminal offences.

Even if a doctor is struck off, they retain the "Dr" title - which is an academic qualification.

If a doctor is acquitted of a criminal charge, the GMC accepts the court's ruling on the criminal matters - although it can launch its own investigation if evidence of other serious professional misconduct is uncovered during the trial.

Former Newcastle GP Dr Dave Moor was investigated further by the GMC despite his acquittal following allegations he carried out the "mercy-killing" of a terminally-ill patient.

Find out more about the Shipman murders

Trial and reaction

See also:

01 Feb 00 | Scotland
01 Feb 00 | UK
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