A British physician was recently convicted of murder in the deaths of 15 elderly and middle-aged female patients, and the health ministry promised an inquiry into system failures that allowed the deaths to go unnoticed. Harold Shipman, MD, was convicted of the murders in early February and sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms.
Police were said to believe that Dr Shipman, 54, may have killed as many as 150 patients during his 30-year career, according to the British Medical Journal (2000;320:331). No reason was given for the murders during the lengthy trial. The doctor stood to gain financially in only one of the deaths. The British Medical Journal also reported that the case had shaken confidence in the medical profession and predicted widespread reform, including closer monitoring of general practitioners (GPs) in single practices.
The British Medical Association (BMA) voiced support for a full inquiry into the case. Ian Bogle, MD, the chairman of the BMA council said he did not think the case would harm the doctor-patient relationship. “It was Shipman who was found guilty, not the medical profession and not GPs,” he told the British Medical Journal.
The BMA proposed the following reforms:
Better defining the death categories the coroner must investigate
Passing a law that would require doctors to notify the coroner directly of such deaths and that would place similar obligations on nurses, undertakers, and others involved in the disposal of the dead
Revamping the systems that register deaths and record cremations to make data collection and monitoring easier
Creating larger groups of regional coroners’ officers that would be controlled by coroners qualified in both medicine and law
Improving forensic medicine education for physicians at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels
John Chisholm, MD, chairman of the medical association’s GP committee, said, “I accept that doctors should be more accountable in the future.”
- Copyright © 2000 by American Heart Association