Letter to Doctor 5 December 2006

Derren Hayes reports (5 Dec 2006) that Health Chiefs in Northern Ireland are to consider increasing the monitoring of single-handed GPs prescribing practices, as a response to the case of Harold Shipman. This is only the most recent example of the unthinking, baseless slander that is repeatedly done to single handed GPs by associating them with Harold Shipman.

Dame Janet Smith's report of July 2002 made it clear that of the 215 patients definitely killed by Harold Shipman, one (in 1975) was during his time as a junior partner in a practice in Todmorden, Yorkshire, and the next 71 (between 1977 and 1991) were while he was working at the seven-doctor Donneybrook practice in Hyde, Greater Manchester.

This means that if he had been detected and arrested when he ought to have been the particular kind of practice that ought to have been singled out for subsequent scrutiny, if any, should have been the large group practice. It is intolerable that people dignified with the label 'health chiefs' should display this combination of ignorance, irrationality and bullying behaviour, against what they judge to be an unpopular, soft target of people who are by definition too busy and committed to stand up for themselves. It is also intolerable that the true situation is not immediately pointed out by the medical journalists who report such anomalies, or by the professional organisations (with the solitary exception of Michael Taylor's utterly admirable Small Practices Association) who should have insisted on putting the record straight long ago. Dame Janet Smith herself has been surprisingly slow to condemn this routine distortion of her findings.

Perhaps Doctor could now make amends by providing 'Health Chiefs in Northern Ireland' with the facts of the case and then a platform from which to express, under their actual names please, their humblest apologies to their betters, the single handed GPs in their part of the country.

James Willis

This letter was published without its final paragraph and under the headline, "Shipman has little to do with solo GPs". I wrote back to say that they still owe solo GPs that apology and that they still don't get it: Shipman has nothing to do with solo GPs.

On the other hand they did find an historic picture of me holding my first Psion, amazingly I still occasionally wear that tie.