Survivor recalls Shipman murder attempt

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The Independent Online

A woman who may be the only patient to have survived an attempted murder by Harold Shipman recalled yesterday how she collapsed moments after the GP leant across her in bed and inserted a needle into her left arm.

Elaine Oswald, now 52, said she was vaguely aware of Shipman also preparing a needle for her right arm before she fell unconscious on an August day 27 years ago. She awoke on the floor at the foot of her bed to find Shipman, his wife and their young son and two ambulancemen in her room.

"I couldn't see properly," she told the public inquiry into the Shipman case. "There were people slapping my face, telling me not to sleep. They were saying, 'Fight it, fight it'."

After four days in hospital, Mrs Oswald returned to her home in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, to find Shipman attentive to her in the extreme. Within three days, she and her husband were even being entertained to supper by the Shipmans. The supper conversation about her illness was dominated by Shipman insisting she was acutely allergic to an opiate-based painkiller he had prescribed and that he had subsequently saved her with the "kiss of life".

Mrs Oswald, who has two children, emigrated to America in 1984,where she is now a professor of English. She told the inquiry at Manchester Town Hall that she had been a "naïve, innocent" 25-year-old when she visited theAbraham Ormerod Medical Centre in Todmorden after several days of nagging pain down her left side which she feared was appendicitis.

Shipman, who was aged 27, immediately diagnosed kidney stones and she did not question the absence of a physical examination or urine samples.

He prescribed her the painkiller Diconal, telling her to take two tablets before going straight to bed. She was also to leave the door off the latch – an instruction he gave to many of his patients who subsequently died – so he could call at her house later to take a blood sample to assist the diagnosis.

But instead Mrs Oswald first went shopping and picked up library books, so by the time he called up the stairs to her at about 11.30am she had only just taken the tablets and that may have been what saved her.

Tests during her confinement in hospital revealed no hint of the kidney stones.

Dr John Grenville, an expert independent GP, told the inquiry that an allergy to the drug could not possibly have caused sudden collapse. Caroline Swift QC, leading counsel to the inquiry, said Shipman was a pethidine addict and may have used her to test the consequences of opiate abuse, rather than kill her. Murdering Mrs Oswald would have brought "a considerable risk," she said. "The death of a previously healthy 25-year-old would have attracted considerable publicity and [been subject to] a post mortem."

Dame Janet Smith, the inquiry chairman, is expected to indicate by early next year whether Shipman attempted to kill Mrs Oswald and killed 31 other Todmorden patients in the 1970s. The inquiry is examining 401 deaths. Shipman was convicted of 15 murders last year.