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Hundreds died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital because of opioid drug administration

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June 22, 2018 | By Jim Gladman |

June 22, 2018 | By Jim Gladman |

A report has concluded that hundreds of premature patient deaths were caused by the inappropriate prescription and over-prescription of opioid painkillers at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

In summary, the report found evidence of opioid use without appropriate clinical indication in 456 patients. The report said that there were probably at least another 200 patients similarly affected (but their clinical notes could not be found). The report concludes that the lives of those patients were shortened as a direct result of the pattern of prescribing and administering opioids that had become the norm at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

The report notes that it is over 27 years since nurses at the hospital first voiced their concerns, and that it is at least 20 years since the families sought answers through proper investigation. The members of the panel preparing the report found it difficult to understand why so many people were prescribed and administered drugs that were not clinically indicated, and in quantities sufficient to shorten their lives.

Dr Jane Barton oversaw the practice of prescribing on the wards at the hospital. She was a GP based at Forton Medical Centre in Gosport. She was also employed as a clinical assistant in the Department of Medicine for Elderly People at Gosport War Memorial Hospital for 12 years from May 1988. It was not just the fault of Dr Barton, as it is clear from the report that there were systemic failures. There was a perception that the events might be due to “another Shipman”. There was an exclusive focus on one individual when there were significant systemic problems.

The General Medical Council had evidence against other doctors but chose to only investigate Dr Barton. The report notes that the consultants on the wards were aware of how drugs were prescribed and administered but they did not stop the practice. The pharmacist did not question the prescriptions, despite the quantities of opioids used on the wards and the fact that the patients admitted were not assessed as requiring palliative or end of life care.

The report found that: “ … there was a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients by prescribing and administering “dangerous doses” of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified.”

Also that: “ … when relatives complained about the safety of patients and the appropriateness of their care, they were consistently let down by those in authority – both individuals and institutions. These included the senior management of the hospital, healthcare organisations, Hampshire Constabulary, local politicians, the coronial system, the Crown Prosecution Service, the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. All failed to act in ways that would have better protected patients and relatives, whose interests some subordinated to the reputation of the hospital and the professions involved.”

From a personal point of view: my mother had been a patient at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. She was a patient at Dr Barton’s surgery and saw her on many occasions. When there was previous publicity she told me that Dr Barton was a kind and caring GP. She would be shocked by the contents of the report.

To read the full report, click here.

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Jim Gladman

Jim Gladman is a solicitor within our Clinical Negligence team in Huddersfield and specialises in Medical Inquests. He joined Switalskis in January 2010 and has over twenty years' experience in Clinical and Medical Negligence claims. Jim's profile