Intended for healthcare professionals


Harold Shipman

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 22 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:231

A general practitioner and murderer

Few doctors have had as great an impact on British medicine as Harold Shipman. When he and his colleagues qualified from Leeds Medical School in 1970, none of them would ever have imagined that his obituary in the BMJ would have opened with such a sentence. But his impact, and his legacy, is incalculable. Few lives can have raised so many questions about how we practise and regulate medicine.

Britain's general practitioners are frequently the cornerstone of their community, offering care, compassion, and continuity. In return they are trusted—quite remarkably trusted. Shipman betrayed that trust in the most appalling and distressing way, killing at least 215, and possibly 260, of his patients.

Harold Frederick Shipman was born in Nottingham in 1946, the son of a lorry driver. No one in his family had ever been to university. While he was taking his A levels, his mother died from cancer at the age of 42. He met his wife, Primrose Oxtoby, at a bus stop while he was at Leeds University, and they married in …

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