When my Nan recently died, my parents got an education in the cost of dying. For example, if you want a cremation, you have to get forms signed by two doctors. Each signature will cost you about Â£60. My parents were told that this was due to the case of Doctor Shipman. A little research showed this to be a simplification.
The rules governing cremation are a century old. When they were first introduced they had to cater for only 500 people a year. Plans to streamline, and reduce the cost to the public, have been around ever since. By 1998 it seemed that the system was to get its reform. Shipman put a stop to that. In that sense, we might blame Shipman for providing the authorities with another excuse for procrastination.
After Shipman, an inquiry recommended tightening the existing procedures then overhauling the death certification system. I don’t know when or what form this will take. The cremation documentation alone produces a Â£50,000,000 income for doctors. With that much vested, it seems unlikely that we’d have gotten reform without the massive media interest the case generated. In that sense, we have Shipman to thank.
However, the repercussions are out of proportion to the problem. The only problems with the existing system are bureaucracy and cost. Looking at the numbers, it is roughly 99.997% effective. That’s not perfect, but it’s not open for abuse either. And the failure in the case of Shipman was not due to the procedures, but because the doctors (understandably) weren’t following the overly bureaucratic rules.
The lesson for anybody implementing a procedure (be it for an industry, a single company, or an individual) is to keep it simple. If you don’t, you risk failure through apathy. Then your process gives you the same protection as no process. I hope that whoever creates the new procedure heeds that lesson.