Hundreds of Patients had Lives 'Shortened' at English Hospital
A doctor at an English hospital presided over an “institutionalised regime” which saw more than 600 patients have their lives cut short after they were prescribed powerful painkillers without medical justification, a report has found. Dr Jane Barton was held responsible for policies which led to the deaths of 656 patients who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital while she worked there between 1988 and 2000.
The report said that there was “disregard for human life,” and it told how patients who were viewed as a “nuisance” were given drugs on syringe drivers which killed them within days.
The report also criticises Hampshire Constabulary, the General Medical Council, and Sir Peter Viggers, the Gosport MP at the time of the deaths, for their failings. The report drew parallels with the case of Harold Shipman, the Manchester GP who was found by an inquiry to have killed 250 people, and with Beverley Allitt, the Lincolnshire nurse who killed four children in the 1960s.
Concerns were first raised in 1991 by hospital whistle-blowers who said strong opioids such as diamorphine were being inappropriately prescribed. Anita Tubbritt, a staff nurse at the hospital, along with several nursing colleagues, raised concerns with hospital management but they were dismissed as “a small group of night staff who are ‘making waves’”.
Despite three police investigations, Dr Barton was allowed to continue practicing until she retired in 2011, shortly after a GMC hearing found her guilty of serious professional misconduct, but failed to remove her from the medical register.
The report revealed how deaths in the hospital more than doubled between 1991 and 1998, with deaths ascribed to bronchopneumonia rising more than nine-fold between 1992 and 1994, which the panel suggests was a cause frequently listed for patients who had been inappropriately given the painkillers.
Many of the prescriptions for fentanyl and diamorphine were not necessary as patients, some of whom were in hospital for minor ailments such as arthritis or for respite care, were not in pain or considered to be dying. The drugs are only supposed to be prescribed as a last resort for patients who are not responding to other painkillers and if the family gives their permission. But in many cases family members were not given enough information about their relative’s condition and the drugs were used for patients who were not in severe pain.
The panel found that 40 per cent of the patients admitted to the wards where Dr Barton worked between 1987 and 2001, for whom there are records, were inappropriately given the drugs.
The report concludes: “The panel found evidence of opioid use without appropriate clinical indication in 456 patients. The panel concludes that, taking into account missing records, there were probably at least another 200 patients similarly affected but whose clinical notes were not found.
“The panel’s analysis therefore demonstrates that the lives of over 450 people were shortened as a direct result of the pattern of prescribing and administering opioids that had become the norm at the hospital, and that probably at least another 200 patients were similarly affected.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs that police and the Crown Prosecution Service would examine material in the Gosport Independent Panel’s report to consider their next steps and “whether criminal charges should now be brought”.
The Daily Telegraph. June 21.