Over 450 patients died as a result of opioid drugs policy, finds Gosport hospital inquiry

Over 450 patients died as a result of opioid drugs policy, finds Gosport hospital inquiry
Up to 465 elderly patients died as a direct result of being prescribed opioid drugs at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, a four-year-inquiry has found. Another 200 may have had their lives shortened by the drugs.

The inquiry into the deaths of 833 elderly patients, led by Bishop James Jones, found that Dr Jane Barton, who ran the wards that were investigated, routinely overprescribed opioids like diamorphine (commonly known as heroin) for her patients throughout the 1990s.

The inquiry detailed how nurses had expressed concern over the practice but they were pressured not to take the accusations further and chose to give the hospital the chance to improve their procedures.

The report stated: “In choosing not to do so, the opportunity was lost, deaths resulted and 22 years later, it became necessary to establish this panel in order to discover the truth of what happened.”

The panel made it clear it thinks prosecutions should follows, while the report urges the health secretary, the attorney general, the chief constable of Hampshire police and the relevant investigatory authorities to assess the results of the reports and “act accordingly.”

A previous inquest into ten deaths at the hospital in 2009 found Dr Barton’s prescription contributed “more than minimally” to five deaths, with three of those not receiving “appropriate” medication for their symptoms.

While in 2010 the General Medical Council panel found the doctor was guilty of “serious misconduct” and of putting her patients’ life at stake.

The high numbers of deaths at the facility were noted amid concerns that a “culture of involuntary euthanasia” was prevalent.

The panel heard Barton had a “brusque unfriendly and indifferent manner”, while a review of the hospital’s Dryad ward in 2003 of by Professor Richard Baker of the University of Leicester was damning. It found Barton would authorize the prescription of opioids saying “Please make comfortable.”

Despite the investigations Barton was not stripped of her right to practice.

Much of the inquiry will focus on the prescribing of diamorphine, the medical name for heroin, and other powerful opiates supposedly used to sedate patients in what Barton claimed was an overstretched department between 1988 and 2000.

At the hearing in 2010, Barton said: “I was faced with an excessive and increasing burden in trying to care for patients at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital. I did the best that I could for them in the circumstances.”

Gillian McKenzie, whose mother Gladys Richards died aged 91 in 1998 while under the care of Barton, had been the first of concerned relatives to go to the police.

“I really don’t mind if my mother’s case doesn’t get into the criminal court – I probably won’t live that long anyway – but I’d like 15 of the strongest cases to get in, and put that women where she belongs,” McKenzie, 84, told The Independent.

Prime Minister Theresa May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt are expected to answer questions on the report at the next Prime Minister’s Questions.

Norman Lamb, the Care minister when the inquiry launched, said the investigation goes beyond doing justice to the families of those affected. It is also essential to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated in the future, Lamb said.

I don’t rule out that you could have a repeat of this,” he told The Independent.

“It is a scandal that families have been left in the dark for more than 15 years.”

“There was nothing in 2014 that I used to reach the conclusion that a proper investigation was needed, that others couldn’t have reached a lot earlier.

“That is, in my view, the scandal of the whole thing.”

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