The General Medical Council could become subject to political regulation if it does not speed up suspension procedures after the Shipman murder case. Ministers are thought to have become impatient with GMC claims that its procedures cannot be quickened without legislative reform.

GMC president Sir Donald Irvine said last week that GMCapproved proposals to suspend doctors as soon as they are accused of criminal offences would require legal change.

Currently doctors can carry on practising after they are convicted, until the suspension procedures have kicked in. In the case of Dr Shipman, recently convicted of the murder of 15 female patients and suspected of up to 160 deaths, the GMC struck him off when his solicitor agreed to waive the standard six-week notice period.

Health secretary Alan Milburn is believed to have accused theG M C of using its statement as a 'smokescreen' to avoid wider reform.

Ministers are understood to feel that 'there could be a case for legislative reform if the GMC's own proposals don't go far enough'.

Options include legislation to make the GMC accountable to a Commons select committee, or insisting on a lay council majority.

The DoH said of the GMC's own proposals, drawn up ahead of the Shipman verdict, that it would be 'considering them very carefully'.

The GMC has stood by its decision not to strike off Dr Shipman 24 years ago, after he was convicted of forging prescriptions and drug offences.