Shipman Inquiry

The section describes my work as Medical Advisor to the Shipman Inquiry between 2000-2005.

My appointment by the Secretary of State for Health as the medical advisor to the Shipman Inquiry was I believe, a national recognition of the contribution of my work on professional accountability. The Shipman Inquiry was set up by an Act of Parliament to investigate the issues arising from the case of Harold Shipman (a general practitioner who was found guilty of killing 15 of his patients). The Inquiry has now published all its findings and recommendations. (See web reference)

I worked as the only Medical Advisor to the Appeal Court Judge, Dame Janet Smith who was Chairman of the Inquiry. I provided medical advice on individual cases as well as policy advice on all aspects of public health and primary care relevant to the terms of reference of the Inquiry. I also worked closely with the legal team supporting the Chairman.

The first phase of the Inquiry determined that Shipman murdered 218 of his patients. Because of the problems related to obtaining evidence from witnesses and records which go back nearly 50 years, the Inquiry thought that it was most likely that he killed 260 of his patients.

In relation to developing a new system of death certification in the UK, I took a lead role in the development of this work. I was responsible for investigating death certification and coroner investigation systems in overseas jurisdictions and I played a key role in helping the Chairman develop proposals for a new death certification and coroner system in the England and Wales. My responsibilities also included commissioning all external research for the Inquiry and working with key external stakeholders to ensure that its recommendations will be implemented. I played a lead role on behalf of the Chairman in liasing with the Chief Medical Officer, the Heads of the Royal Colleges and the BMA in arguing for the Inquiry’s position.

In relation to recertification and revalidation, I worked closely with the Chairman in investigating systems for revalidation, medical regulation and in developing recommendations for protecting the public. The Inquiry made significant recommendations not only in relation to reform of the General Medical Council but also in relation to how systems of revalidation should be reformed to better protect the public.

The Home Office and Department of Health have now accepted the major recommendations of the Shipman Inquiry related to death certification and the revalidation of doctors. The changes that will result from these recommendations will represent the most fundamental change in the death certification process in the UK over the last 100 years and will fundamentally change the way that deaths are investigated and certified in the UK. The recommendations in relation to the reform of the GMC and the system of revalidation are currently the subject of a an internal inquiry by the Chief Medical Officer.

For a summary of the Shipman Inquiry see an article I wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine. View document in PDF 52KB.