Dumfries and Galloway health board has decided to monitor GP death rates in the wake of the Harold Shipman case, in a move opposed by GP leaders.

The board has decided to act now to reassure the public that it is actively monitoring the area's 130 GPs.

If there are any abnormal death rates, a group comprising the board's director of public health, the medical director of the local primary care trust and a GP representative will investigate.

However, the idea has been criticised by the leader of Scotland's GPs, who feel the move is premature and potentially alarming to the public. Dr Kenneth Harden, chair of the British Medical Association's Scottish GP committee, said: 'I'm not sure that this system really achieves anything significant. Before it is statistically effective a GP would have to have committed several murders.

'It is also a bit of a pre-emptive measure because it is acting before the Shipman inquiry has reported. We would rather wait for that report and then act than put in play actions now which will probably have to be altered later.'

Lord Laming, who was asked to investigate the circumstances in which Hyde GP Dr Shipman was able to kill at least 15 of his patients, has now stood down from the inquiry.

The private inquiry was suspended after families of Dr Shipman's victim mounted a successful court action to force health secretary Alan Milburn to hold it in public.Department of Health officials are still talking to the families about the form the inquiry should take.

In Scotland, the idea of checks was put forward and will be implemented by Dumfries and Galloway health board's director of public health, Dr Derek Cox.

He said: 'We already have the data for this from the General Register Office and we felt that we could use this as a means to reassure the public following the Shipman case. I am amazed that the GPs believe that it isn't an effective means of monitoring deaths because it doesn't prevent them. Clearly it doesn't prevent deaths, but if a similar system had been in place in Greater Manchester then the career of Harold Shipman would have been considerably shorter and a great many lives would have been saved.'

The move was welcomed by Pat Dawson, secretary of the Scottish Association of Health Councils, who said: 'It is a way of increasing the scrutiny of the NHS and of reassuring the public.

'Let's pilot it in this area, which is quite small, see if there are any problems or issues which arise and whether there needs to be a more refined system of monitoring introduced and take it from there.'