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GPC hits out at Shipman inquiry over GP 'scapegoats'

The GPC has branded the Shipman inquiry unfair for making 'scapegoats' of six GPs hoodwinked by the serial killer into signing form Cs.

GP negotiators have offer-ed unswerving support to the GPs, claiming they acted as many other doctors would have done in the same circumstances.

A whole chapter of the third report, published by inquiry chair Dame Janet Smith earlier this month, was devoted to scrutinising the actions of Shipman's GP colleagues

in Hyde, Greater Manchester, who signed form Cs for

patients who turned out to have been murdered.

Six of the 10 GPs named were criticised for not detecting unusual patterns surrounding the deaths or for signing a singular form containing inconsistencies.

Concern over the tone of the report was voiced at the latest GPC meeting, with members agreeing to hold a full debate and decide any further action in September.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said: 'People must not be judged for yesterday's actions by today's standards. Doctors must not be made scapegoats for a system that the BMA has been asking to be changed since 1972.

'Many of us in the same circumstances would have done the same thing.'

GPC chair Dr John Chis-holm said: 'The committee felt these GPs had been unfairly criticised because they were practising in a way that was consistent with standard practice. They need the support of the profession in protecting them both locally and nationally.'

The GPC also expressed concern over Dame Janet's recommendation that a new independent coroner's service should scrutinise the circumstances surrounding every death before certifying a cause.

Dr Holden warned such a system would provoke complaints from relatives about delays in making funeral arrangements.

The recommendations would cost millions to implement and have received a cool response from the Government.

Dr Rajesh Patel has spoken of the emotional aftermath of his involvement in the Shipman case and told how Hyde GPs have tightened up their death certification procedures.

Dr Patel, one of the six GPs criticised in the third Shipman inquiry report, said GPs linked to the case had been 'their own worst critics'.

Dr Patel, who practises at Brooke Street surgery, added: 'We have many relatives of Shipman's victims and they've been helping us rebuild our confidence as we have been helping them rebuild their lives. Our patients see us as a bit more human.' He took issue with Dame Janet Smith's claim that Hyde GPs had failed to change their procedures in the wake of the case. GPs now meet face to face to discuss a cremation form, referring to the patient's notes.

'We know this practice is not universal and that lots of GPs just discuss it over the phone,' said Dr Patel. 'Many patients feel the safest place to have a doctor now is in Hyde.'

GPs have also agreed to take steps to speak to a relative, carer or other health professional.

Dr Rajesh Patel (Southport)

With our report of the Shipman Inquiry last week we inadvertently carried a picture of Dr Rajesh Patel from Manchester Road Surgery, Southport, instead of Dr Rajesh Patel of Brooke Street Surgery, Hyde. The Southport GP wishes to make it clear he has never practised in Hyde and has no connection with the inquiry or remarks made by its chair, Dame Janet Smith, over the signing of form C. We apologise for the confusion and any distress caused.

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