UK panel finds 450 lives shortened by hospital's opioid use

Dr Jane Barton

An independent medical panel found that Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire had an institutionalized regime of prescribing and administering unsafe doses of opioids that were not clinically justified.

The report of the Gosport Independent Panel was published on Wednesday morning after a four-year, £14-million investigation into the deaths of hundreds of patients under the care of the GP Dr Jane Barton.

A British panel has found at least 450 had their lives shortened by a hospital's institutionalised regime of administering opioids without medical justification.

Dr Barton, described as "brusque and indifferent", was found guilty of professional misconduct related to 12 patient deaths in 2010 by the GMC - but was not struck off the medical register and retired after the findings.

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"There was a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients", the panel continued.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We want justice to be served because these families' lives were taken - mums, dads, grandads, grandmas".

Hunt that "the police, working with the CPS and clinicians as necessary, 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 documents seen by the panel show that, for a 12-year period, a clinical assistant, Dr Barton, was responsible for the practice of prescribing which prevailed on the wards", Bishop Jones said.

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These included a picture of Gladys Richards, who died at Gosport Hospital in 1998, aged 91, after being given opiates and sedatives.

The report said the families of the dead have been failed by the hospital's senior management, health care organizations, police, prosecutors, local politicians and medical authorities. The panel found there was "no medical justification" for such strong painkillers being used.

There was an "institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering unsafe doses of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified, with patients and relatives powerless in their relationship with professional staff", the Gosport Independent Panel investigation found.

The inquiry stopped short of blaming individuals but called on authorities to "consider the action that now needs to be taken to further investigate what happened at the hospital". But the panel examining the Gosport scandal said the circumstances were different.

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Bishop Jones's report does not press for a criminal investigation, or refer any findings to the police or the Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS); but it urges the Health Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Chief Constable of Hampshire Police to recognise the "significance" of the findings, and to "act accordingly".

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