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Families say pushers of killer opioids must face jail

Gosport Hospital inquiry slams fatal prescription practices

THOSE responsible for the early deaths of hundreds of NHS patients wrongly dosed with opioids should face criminal charges, relatives demanded today.

More than 450 people had their lives shortened as a result of an “institutionalised regime” of prescribing and administering opioids without medical justification at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1989 and 2000, a damning inquiry report has found.

Another 200 patients, whose medical records have gone missing, were also “probably” affected by the use of “dangerous doses” of opioids.

Bridget Reeves, whose grandmother Elsie Divine, 88, 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.

“Accountability must take precedent here. 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.”

Inquiry chair Bishop James Jones picked out GP Dr Jane Barton as having presided over wards with “a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients.”

However, the Gosport Independent Panel also found that hospital management, Hampshire Police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), General Medical Council (GMC) and Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) “all failed to act in ways that would have better protected patients and relatives.”

A whistle-blower first raised concerns about prescribing practices in 1991, but their warnings were “unheeded,” the report found.

The report also criticised “obfuscation by those in authority” and “the closing of ranks of those who hold power,” which saw relatives who raised concerns dismissed as “troublemakers” and left “angry and disillusioned.”

Mr Jones, who produced a report into the experiences of the Hillsborough families last year, said: “It is a lonely place, seeking answers to questions that others wish you were not asking.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs that the report’s findings “can only be described as truly shocking,” adding: “In short, there was a catalogue of failings by the NHS, Hampshire Constabulary, the GMC, the NMC, the coroners and, a steward of the system, the Department of Health.”

The report found that, over a 12-year period as clinical assistant, Dr Jane Barton was “responsible for the practice of prescribing which prevailed on the wards.”

She was found guilty in 2010 of multiple charges of professional misconduct relating to the deaths of 12 patients at the hospital.

But Mr Hunt questioned whether there was an “institutional desire to blame the issues on one rogue doctor rather than examine systemic failings.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the report was “devastating, shocking and heartbreaking,” adding: “Taken as a whole, there was a systemic failure to properly investigate what went wrong and rectify it.”

He commended Mr Jones for again “uncovering an injustice and revealing the truth about a shameful episode in our recent history,” but he was critical that an earlier report produced by Professor Richard Baker in 2003 was “left on a shelf gathering dust” for 10 years.

Mr Hunt agreed, suggesting that, “had it been published [earlier], I’m pretty certain the transparency would have prompted much more rapid action and some of the things that we may now decide to do we would have done much, much earlier.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I'm sorry that it took so long for the families to get the answers from the NHS.”

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