It sounds like someone's idea of a sick joke, but I heard this week local health authorities are checking how many deaths per GP are being registered by family doctors in this area.

Clearly the case of Dr Harold Shipman has got the medical profession worried, despite the BMA's assertion he was a serial killer and the unfortunate fact he was a doctor had nothing to do with it.

Doctors themselves are said to be horrified and upset by the case. There are reports of old ladies frightened of being offered a home visit when they call their local surgery. Nobody dare mention injections. It's all nonsense, of course. Doctors these days are patient friendly and always happy to tell us more than we want to know. My GP, Dr Clive Bach, is one of the modern breed who believes in total communication.

Clive doesn't dispense pills like Smarties either. He usually prescribes a brisk walk for my aches and pains.I find it all most refreshing. You certainly wouldn't call a doctor by his or her first name in the good old bad old days. Nor did they tell you much.

Everyone seems to have a horror story about wrong diagnosis. We forget for every mistake there are a thousand success stories and we moan about those, too.

In my own case, a routine health check revealed an irregular heartbeat, which means I must take pills every day for the rest of my life. What if I hadn't gone for that health check, I demand angrily when talking about matters medical. Probably dead, that's what.

We're told healthcare is going to be the big issue at the next election and yet the NHS is second to none in the world. In America, a visit to the doctor is such a costly business that millions rely on the patent medicine counter in the local supermarket to come up with an instant remedy in a bottle. Counter assistants are consulted as if they were hospital consultants.

It reminds me of the old days here at home when doctors were a luxury we couldn't afford and five Aspro tablets and a bottle of iodine from the chemist were supposed to cure everything. GPs then worked in modest surroundings - usually a room attached to their home - did their own paperwork and knew every patient by sight and often by name.

Ours was an eccentric character named Dr Pepper. In top hat and black frock coat, he carried out his visits in a Victorian chaise drawn by a recalcitrant old nag, frequently bellowing at patients from the back of his carriage. "I told you to stay in bed," was a frequent cry.

His fee was a tanner, about 2p in today's money. If the patient couldn't pay, as was often the case, he was likely to give them a handout. Now that's what I call a doctor

The new archbishop and I

Congratulations to Dr Cormac Murphy-O'Connor on becoming Archbishop of Westminster. I remember him well. As Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, he was so taken aback by our wish to get married in Arundel Cathedral that he suggested the ceremony should be held in the middle of the night!

Mind you, I can't really blame him. It could have turned into a media circus. I was a non-Catholic, married twice before, and the tabloids were breathing down my neck hoping for a tasty story like "Bishop Bans DJ Del."

Actually the bride-to-be was so determined on the high altar at Arundel that the bishop softened his views and allowed the marriage to go ahead at a decent hour. "Since Ellen knows so well what God wants for her, who am I to object?" he said.

They say the Pope made him head of the church in England thanks to the support of the Duke of Norfolk, our premier Roman Catholic peer, whose family built Arundel Cathedral.

Like us, David Frost wanted to marry the duke's daughter, Lady Carina, in the cathedral. No chance. Frosty was ruled out because a Methodist minister had married him previously. His father.

Hard penalty for Becks

Can David Beckham, arguably the world's greatest footballer, be totally under the thumb of his wife Victoria, aka Posh Spice? That's the theory being advanced as cause of his troubles with Sir Alex Ferguson.

He aroused the ire of the Manchester United boss by missing training last week because baby Brooklyn had tummy trouble. Becks was then dropped from Sunday's game against Leeds. United won 1-0 but it was close.

All fathers know the anxiety caused by a baby falling ill in the night, though not many would take the following day off work as a result. Unless the wife insisted, of course.

Becks should tell Sir Alex what he can do with Old Trafford and join Spurs.

Whether coach George Graham could persuade Spurs owner Alan Sugar to part with something like £25 million is another question, but Sir Alex might accept a bargain offer if only to prove nobody is bigger than Manchester United.

This latest round of royal rubbish

It's impossible to separate fact from fiction when it comes to reporting the Royal family. The latest bit of nonsense going around is that the Royals boycotted Prince Andrew's 40th birthday party because it was arranged by his ex-wife, the Duchess of York.

It's true the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles were missing from the bash at Sunninghill Park in Berkshire, but it could be they didn't fancy a midnight knees-up with the likes of Bruce Forsyth and Billy Connolly.

If we were witnessing a Royal snub to Fergie, how come the Queen attended a lunch in Andrew's honour, also organised by the Duchess? She is known to be fond of Fergie and her support makes a family boycott all the more unlikely.

As for that silly trainee chef Monica Traub, I doubt whether she meant to harm the Queen. Her idle talk about cyanide and poisoning the Queen obviously was some kind of feeble joke.

All the same, she was lucky to escape a court appearance. Once upon a time her head would have been on the block.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.