Harold Shipman is an infamous name in medicine. He was a British General Practitioner who was convicted in the year 2000 of murdering 15 of his own patients. An inquiry suspected he may have been responsible for over 250 deaths, making him the most prolific serial killer in recorded history. He earned the unenviable title, ‘Dr Death’, and hanged himself in his prison cell before his sentencing.
Women are especially vulnerable to rogue doctors, they totalled 80 per cent of Shipman’s victims.
Cases of inappropriate gynaecological practice are not new. There’s a case in a US hospital where a rogue doctor abused the trust bestowed on him by his patients. He secretly recorded intimate pelvic examinations on the women who visited him for years. He ended up amassing thousands of pictures and videos of women’s genital organs. It’s unclear what his motives were, he gassed himself and committed suicide before he was brought to justice.
The Shipman case brought wide-ranging reforms in medical licensing and practice in the UK, all geared towards protecting patients from harm.
Medical law is very clear about ethical obligations that doctors must always uphold. And there are clear punishment pathways if anyone is found in breach of stipulated laws, often leading to deregistration from the medical register. Those convicted of medical crimes rarely escape jail time.
But can you really protect yourself from any doctor bent on doing some harm? There are no foolproof ways of being absolutely sure that your doctor is on the straight and narrow. The rogue US doctor worked for over 20 years without ever being noticed by either his colleagues or his own patients.
Select both your doctors and hospitals prudently. Keep all your antennae on high alert whenever consulting, or being subjected to medical exams. Anything odd that comes up must be questioned. If you feel aggrieved in any way, don’t keep it to yourself. Bring it up with the healthcare provider’s management. Seek advice from colleagues you can trust, or a lawyer, or the police. You can even go directly and lodge a complaint with the medical board. Don’t ever stay silent after any suspected medical abuse.
The trust between you and your doctor must be upheld at all times. This is the only way you can have full confidence with your healthcare providers. After all, you trust them with your life, let alone other confidential matters related to your health. Be confident that the vast majority of doctors are just what they should be. They uphold their medical ethics to the letter, and are only interested in doing some good. Don’t be overly paranoid, but equally don’t ignore any telltale signs of deviation from medical norms.
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Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist; [email protected]