Thursday 14 November 2019

GP 'oversaw practices that killed 456 patients in hospital'

Jane Barton. Photo: PA
Jane Barton. Photo: PA

Olivia Rudgard

A GP oversaw an "institutionalised practice of shortening lives" that killed 456 patients at a hospital in southern England, an inquiry has found.

Up to 200 further patients might have died as a result of medical staff "administering opioids without medical justification" at Gosport War Memorial Hospital near Portsmouth, but records were missing in those cases, the report by an independent panel found.

Dr Jane Barton (69) was "responsible for the practice of prescribing which prevailed on the wards" at the scandal-hit Hampshire hospital, the inquiry concluded.

The panel cannot "ascribe criminal or civil liability", but called on Jeremy Hunt, the UK home secretary, attorney general, Hampshire Police and "the relevant investigative authorities" to "recognise the significance of what is revealed about the circumstances of deaths at the hospital and act accordingly."

Hampshire Police chief constable Olivia Pinkney said the force would now study the report and "assess any new information" with the Crown Prosecution Service "in order to decide the next steps."

The CPS, which previously ruled there was insufficient evidence for gross negligence manslaughter charges, said: "We will consider the content of the report and will take any appropriate steps as required."

UK Prime Minister Theresa May described the Gosport scandal as "deeply troubling" and apologised to families over the time it took to get answers from the NHS.

The panel, led by former bishop of Liverpool James Jones, who also headed up the 2012 Hillsborough inquiry, criticised nurses for failing to "challenge prescribing" and for "suboptimal care."

The report said "families were failed" and there were successive failures by authorities, including the healthcare authorities and police, to recognise what was happening and to "act to put it right."

Dr Barton has been accused of prescribing deadly doses of diamorphine - a powerful opiate painkiller - to patients when she worked at the Hampshire hospital.

Established to address concerns about the deaths of elderly patients, the inquiry's work included looking at 833 death certificates signed by Dr Barton and examined more than one million pages of documents.

Between 1998 and 2000, there was a "disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients", the report found.

It also uncovered "an institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering 'dangerous doses' of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified".

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