Can the police learn from GPs' experiences?

Torbay Weekly

With the conviction of Wayne Couzens after his appalling murder of Sarah Everard, I was reminded of our 'Wayne Couzens moment' - the arrest and conviction of the mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman.

When Dr Shipman was arrested the press and politicians argued that GPs must try to regain public trust.

But recurrent opinion polls showed that the public’s faith in GPs remained at around 90 per cent.

People realised that Shipman was a one-off evil man who happened to be a GP.

I hope nobody looked at me or my colleagues and imagined a mass murderer.

But there were many serious questions. How could we prevent such a tragedy ever occurring again?

There were some warning signs.

One GP and a funeral director had expressed concern to the coroner about the number of cremation forms she was having to sign.

Were more of his patients dying than the patients of other GPs?

In the Shipman case, there was a detailed enquiry with numerous recommendations.

Most of these were reasonable but would not have stopped another Shipman.

GPs had to undergo regular appraisals. I fully supported this idea and became one of the local appraisers, as well as having to undergo an appraisal myself.

It was bizarre that a doctor could become a GP at 30 and continue to 70 without any check on the quality of their work.

I found the standard of our local doctors in Torbay very high and usually came away from an appraisal feeling guilty.

They were often doing far more that I was.

But this would not have stopped Shipman, who was not an incompetent doctor.

I disagreed with the implication from the review that single-handed GPs are somehow less safe than those in group practices.

In Torbay, we had several single-handed GPs who were brilliant, giving a personal service to their patients with an extremely high level of medicine.

But perhaps Torbay was not typical.

The enquiry also tightened up on our management of dangerous drugs.

Shipman used diamorphine (heroin) to kill his patients.

After the enquiry we had to keep detailed records of our use of dangerous drugs.

This would have prevented Shipman but it should always have been the case. We were far too relaxed about dangerous drugs.

So, can the police learn from our experiences?

Was Wayne Couzens an evil psychopath who managed to get into the police force or was he an extreme example or an underlying problem?

Is there a misogynistic streak within male police officers?

I never saw it working with the Devon and Cornwall force but is it in the Met?

As with Dr Shipman, there were some warning signs. It is alleged that Couzens had been accused of indecent exposure several times but released with no further action.

No one should be refused a job if they were once accused of a crime for which they are innocent, but no further action does not mean innocence.

It means that the allegation cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt, the criminal criteria.

For vetting police officers should they use the civil criteria, on the balance of probabilities?

Any enquiry will need to look at whether he should have been charged.

In the past indecent exposure has been seen as a rather pathetic crime committed by sad men but should we see it as a warning sign?

Is it the first step on the road to serious sex offending?

I have had three different vettings, as a GP, working with the police and when I worked in prisons.

They looked in detail asking about my father, who died in 1969, my wife, my brother who has also died, and my adult children. They also looked carefully at my financial situation.

For some reason I was not called for an interview although some of my colleagues were. Perhaps my background is too boring.

As with Dr Shipman, the Wayne Couzens case asks more questions than it answers.

Will it prove a turning point in British policing as Shipman was a turning point for GPs?