As a retired detective chief inspector who has spent 10 years investigating within the health sector, I have a deep affinity for healthcare professionals.

Their problems are unique. Although I now investigate mainly fraud or misconduct in clinical research, no one could ever categorise me as a 'doctorbasher'.

The vast majority of doctors are utterly trustworthy and dedicated. It may not always seem like that to lay people as horror stories like Harold Shipman dent public confidence and severely damage morale within the profession.

This is the price for having a transparent disciplinary process. The alternative is unthinkable - hearings behind closed doors.

At least we have confidence in the belief that something is done, albeit sometimes rather inexpertly.

I often see inept investigations in trusts and health authorities combined with an inability to react to suspicion. A flawed system holds no deterrent effect; neither does it protect the innocent parties.

The General Medical Council receives an enormous amount of bad press and criticism. Some of this is justified, but there is much to commend in its disciplinary process.

The investigations into cases of serious professional misconduct are incredibly thorough, scrupulously fair and demonstrate a determination to keep standards high.

Working as an investigator for the GMC for six years, I was impressed by its willingness to leave no stone unturned - there was never a hint of a cover-up. It can be a bit soft sometimes, but then it is the nature of a doctor to be sympathetic, caring and - usually - forgiving. Struck-off doctors often return to the register in circumstances that many would view as inappropriate.

Dr Shipman seems to have remained undetected for a very long time. There has been speculation that the inability of individuals to react to 'suspicion' will be shown to be a major factor.

I know of many people in trusts and HAs who have been given the task of 'investigating' suspicious circumstances. They do it as well as I would manage a minor surgical procedure. How do you deal with mere suspicion?

It cannot be fair to expect a doctor or administrator to conduct a thorough investigation in such cases.