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Monday, 7 February, 2000, 10:21 GMT
Shipman: as the dust settles

Dr Colin Thomas writes on the Shipman case


As the dust begins to settle on the Shipman trial it is gradually dawning on me that things will never be the same.

I was walking home from the train station and there was a realisation that as a doctor, although not in any way connected with the murderous Shipman, that I nonetheless was a marked man. Were those curtains twitching?

Well of course not, but I actually started to worry about how this incident would reflect on me and my medical colleagues throughout the country and my overwhelming emotion was anger at what has happened.

Although a doctor myself I do see an element of smugness and "holier than thou" attitude in the institutions of the medical profession, and unfortunately it has taken a terrible incident like this to shake them into action.

Certain institutions have come out of this very badly indeed, and there's no doubt that certain procedures need tightening.

However I do feel it would be a great shame if single handed GPs were targeted, and threatened even more than they are currently.

I accept that things have to run on trust, but I do remember as a young GP coming out of hospital practice, where death certificates were a serious business, being almost agog when my GP trainer certified someone's death who had died unexpectedly.

Yes he knew that they were ill, and it's not too difficult to tell that someone had died, but due to what? It seemed to me to owe a large amount to personal opinion and, dare I say, some guesswork.

More regulation needed

I continue to feel that something as serious as death certification should not be left to chance.

The fact that Dr Shipman was easily able to abuse the system says to me that the process should be more regulated.

With the information being computerised it should not be difficult to monitor death rates of individual GPs.

However, interestingly local doctors and undertakers did indeed become suspicious without the need for complicated monitoring.

They just knew that something fishy was going on. Unfortunately this played no part in influencing the police in the early stages and, perhaps because they didn't want to believe a doctor was capable of such things, were happy that the facts appeared to fit the patients circumstances of death.

Nearly every patient I've seen this week has had something to say about the case, but to cap it all I had to take a blood sample from someone the day after the verdict was given. It immediately sprang to my mind that this was probably how Shipman had killed many of his victims.

At precisely that moment, as he rolled up his sleeve he said: "You know, after Shipman I was in two minds whether to come today"

Many a true word spoken in jest I thought ... one bad apple certainly has tainted the whole barrel.

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