Doctor as murderer
Death certification needs tightening up, but it still might not have stopped Shipman
- By: Bill O'Neill
Harold Shipman, a general practitioner from Greater Manchester, has been convicted of murdering 15 of his patients. Inevitably, his conviction raises serious concerns for clinicians, patients, and society. How could such crimes go undetected? What lessons can be learnt and can similar murders by doctors be prevented in future?
Serial killers in health care like Shipman and Beverly Allitt are particularly shocking because they damage the trust that exists between clinicians and their patients. In 1993 Allitt, a nurse working on a paediatric ward, was convicted of murdering four children, attempting to murder three, and causing grievous bodily harm to six.1
Like many singlehanded doctors, Harold Shipman had over 3000 patients in his care. His patients seemed to like him. Until the suspicions began to gather that eventually led to his prosecution, few concerns were raised about his clinical competence. Evidence emerged that he had falsified the notes of some