Leaders of Britain's ruling medical body, the General Medical Council, will be questioned by MPs about possible links between Freemasons in the medical profession and a series of medical scandals.
There are concerns within Whitehall that the GMC may have been slow to act against doctors because of a Freemason network within the NHS.
The GMC, which came under fire for its failure to clamp down on failing doctors after the Bristol baby deaths and the Shipman serial killings, will be asked to disclose details of its own voluntary register, when its leaders go before the Commons select committee on health this week.
Rumours about Freemasonry in the medical profession have been circulating in Whitehall since the Bristol baby deaths scandal, and ministers are anxious to ensure there has been no cover-up.
There are an estimated 8,000 masonic lodges in England and Wales. A number of leading hospitals, including the Royal London, have lodges, but exact figures are elusive and few doctors openly admit to being masons.
MPs were astonished to discover that the GMC had a voluntary register for "conflicts of interest" which has not been made public. Howard Stoate, the Labour MP and GP, said he would be challenging the GMC to disclose the register.
He said: "It should be made public. It's entirely a matter for doctors to decide what to declare on the register. It's secretive; that's outrageous."
Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, has privately made plain he wants the GMC to carry out a shake-up of its disciplinary procedures to regain the public confidence that was shattered by the disclosures in the Shipman case.
He was furious that Shipman was allowed to continue as a GP throughout the trial and was only struck off by the GMC after the guilty verdict of the jury. Mr Milburn has told the GMC it has the power to suspend GPs when they are under police investigation, but the GMC is prevaricating.
"Ministers are losing patience with the GMC," said a Whitehall source. The health committee, chaired by Labour MP David Hinchliffe, has called GMC leaders to give evidence at an emergency hearing on its plans for reform.
The GMC announced it would be carrying out its own review, leading to possible reforms in the wake of the Shipman case. Ministers demanded that as a minimum they wanted a majority of laymen on the Council, but its president, Sir Donald Irvine, a retired family doctor, said he was against such a move.
David Mellor, the former Tory health minister, called for the whole GMC to be sacked. The Council has 54 seats for doctors who are elected for a five-year term by doctors. There are 25 lay members appointed by the Department of Health, and 25 by the universities and royal colleges.
The British Medical Association said ministers should fully consult the medical profession before moving towards political overseeing of the GMC.
In its statement, the GMC accepted the need for reform. "We know that to maintain public trust and guarantee that the GMC is doing the best job possible of protecting patients, changes need to be made to the way in which we operate. We have already identified some of those changes and are working urgently to put them in place."
By Colin Brown
Sunday, 27 February 2000
Source: The Independent
Family Doctor Harold Shipman was Britain's most prolific serial killer. He murdered 215 of his patients, the judge heading the official inquiry into his crimes Dame Janet Smith stated. She also said there was a "real suspicion" that the doctor could have claimed another 45 victims during a killing spree which went unchecked for 23 years. On Monday, 31st January 2000 the jury at Preston Crown Court in England convicted Shipman - branded 'Doctor Death' by the media - of 15 murders and of forging a will. Shipman took his own life in prison in early January 2004, never admitting his guilt for the terrible crimes he committed.
Abuse of power in the NHS - Kerr Haslam inquiry
"In July 2005 the Kerr Haslam Inquiry reported its findings to the Minster of Health. Unlike the Shipman inquiry or the inquiry into the deaths of babies in Bristol, this report has not made the headlines."