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Doctors Wary after Shipman Affair

Since the Shipman affair doctors have wary of treating elderly patients with pain-reducing drugs, according to a new survey.//

In 2000, Dr Harold Shipman was declared guilty of 15 murders, although many believe the true number to be much higher. He took his own life in prison in 2004.

A study conducted by the Small Practices Association on behalf of BBC Radio 4 revealed that since Shipman’s conviction, only one in three GPs keep opiates in the surgery in comparison to the three in five who used to stock them before.

The number of GPs carrying these drugs in their bags has also fallen from seven in ten to approximately four in ten GPs. The study also reported an increased anxiety among doctors, with a quarter of GPs saying that they were more worried about prescribing pain relief in case of accidental overdoes to terminally ill patients.

In addition it was found that a third of GPs have increased their referrals to hospitals, hospices and specialized teams, although half report that there has been no change to their practice and only five per cent have stopped home visits to terminally ill patients.

In response to the survey, Dr John Grenville, who gave evidence for the prosecution in the murder of trial of Dr Shipman as well as is a member of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, sought to downplay the findings.

He stated that doctors should have nothing to fear if they keep themselves up to date with the latest technology and recorded accurately the care they provided for elderly patients.

He said, 'I do not believe that my practice has changed with regard to helping people with terminal illness and trying to relieve their pain. I think that certainly GPs have a concern that if things go wrong they may be under greater scrutiny than they previously were.'

He added, 'But as long as GPs keep themselves up-to-date with the use of controlled drugs, with the guidelines and with the legislation and as long as they explain carefully to patients' carers and relatives what they are doing and make careful records of the decisions they have made, then they have nothing to fear.'


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