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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

Doctors face new police probe after hundreds die at UK hospital

Report says up to 650 lives cut short after elderly patients given inappropriate medicine

Dr Jane Barton has been at the centre of claims of poor treatment of patients at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital, south England. (Chris Ison/PA via AP, File)
Dr Jane Barton has been at the centre of claims of poor treatment of patients at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital, south England. (Chris Ison/PA via AP, File)

British police are set to reopen an inquiry into a doctor at a scandal-hit hospital where some 650 patients died after being given dangerous doses of powerful sedatives.

A report into the scandal published Wednesday found a “disregard for human life and a culture of shortening lives” at a hospital in Gosport, southern England, where 456 patients died because of the inappropriate use of opioids over more than a decade. Another 200 probably died but that could not be proved because of lost paperwork.

Dr Jane Barton was identified in the report as being responsible for prescribing the potent drugs over 12 years but senior colleagues, nurses and pharmacists all knew what she was doing and failed to stop her, the independent panel found.

A view of the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in southern England. Google Street View
A view of the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in southern England. Google Street View

“There was an institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified” between 1989 and 2000, the report said. It added that patients and relatives were “powerless in their relationship with professional staff”.

The report criticised the culture of cover-up within a health system more concerned with protecting the reputation of senior staff and the institution than keeping parents safe.

“The events… were tragic, they are deeply troubling and brought unimaginable heartache to the families concerned,” prime minister Theresa May told lawmakers after the publication of the report.

Police said they would consider the evidence contained in the damning 387-page report, which criticised officers for the poor quality of three separate investigations into 92 deaths that failed to lead to criminal charges.

The police and health authorities had focused on the possibility that Dr Barton was a rogue doctor rather than pursuing a wider investigation, the report said.

Bridget Reeves, whose grandmother died at the hospital in 1999, said: “This has been sinister, calculated and those implicated must now face the full rigour of the criminal justice system.

“These horrifying, shameful, unforgivable actions need to be disclosed in a criminal court for a jury to decide and only then can we put our loved ones to rest.”

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Only Dr Barton has been held to account over the affair but retired after being found of misconduct by a disciplinary panel in 2010.

Prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to prosecute the doctor, who was described as “brusque, unfriendly and indifferent” by some relatives, according to the report.

The independent inquiry was called after a raft of cases when elderly patients who went to the hospital for rest and rehabilitation died within days because of the medicine administered

Nurses first raised concerns about the problems at Gosport War Memorial Hospital 27 years ago but they and family members were ignored when they went to the authorities. One detective said that two members of one bereaved family were out to “stir up trouble” as they tried to get to the bottom of what had happened.

“Had the establishment listened when junior staff spoke out… many of those deaths would not have happened,” said the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He said there had been delays throughout the system in getting to the bottom of what had gone wrong in Gosport.

“The police… will now carefully examine the new material in the report before determining their next steps and in particular whether criminal charges should now be brought.”

The report did not shed light on why doctors became part of a system knowing that the doses administered could lead to death. The inquiry, which took four years, examined a million pages of documents, but did not question witnesses to reach its conclusions.

The case is the latest scandal to hit Britain’s much-loved public health system, which is struggling to adapt to the demands and increasing costs of modern healthcare.

A public inquiry found that hundreds of people died unnecessarily at a hospital between 2005 and 2009 in Stafford, central England, because of abuse and neglect.

Harold Shipman, a doctor, was jailed for life in 2000 for murdering 15 patients in his care, though he is suspected to have killed some 250 by oversubscribing pain medication.