Regulating doctors: should we swallow Dame Janet's medicine?

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 03 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:546
  1. Jonathan Osborne, consultant otolaryngologist (,
  2. Bridget Osborne, general practitioner
  1. Glan Clwyd District Hospital, and chairman of the BMA Welsh consultants'committee
  2. Conwy

    Harold Shipman's murderous trail has forever altered the relationship between doctors and patients in this country. A cunning and determined psychopath outwitted his patients, professional colleagues, and the police, and evaded the attention of the General Medical Council (GMC). He succeeded because his crimes were monstrous and incomprehensible to his peers and even to the necessarily jaundiced eye of the police.

    Harold Shipman would, of course, have passed any appraisal of fitness to practise with flying colours. Many of his patients, despite all evidence to the contrary, remained desperately loyal to “Dr Fred,” believing that he was the best doctor in the area. His bedside manner was exemplary and the quality of his clinical notes of a high standard. The only straw in the wind that could have been taken more seriously was his previous brush with the GMC for misuse of opiates. The GMC's inability to continue to monitor the situation has resulted in a number of recommendations in Dame Janet Smith's Shipman inquiry report, Safeguarding Patients: Lessons from the Past—Proposals for the Future, namely better monitoring of prescribing, tighter controls on controlled drugs, and revising the rules on certification of death ( All these place sensible checks in the system, which will pick up an abnormal pattern earlier.

    The public, quite rightly, wish to know that …

    View Full Text

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution