Police to investigate painkiller prescription scandal at UK hospital

Hundreds had lives shortened after painkillers prescribed unnecessarily, report found last year

Gosport War Memorial Hospital in  Hampshire, England. Photograph: Will Glover/EPA

Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire, England. Photograph: Will Glover/EPA

 

A new criminal investigation has been opened in England into the Gosport hospital scandal, in which hundreds of patients died after being given powerful painkillers.

The care provided to patients who died at the Hampshire hospital between 1987 and 2001 will be the focus of a police investigation, Kent Police said in a statement issued on behalf of the Eastern Policing Region on Tuesday. Families were told of the decision at a meeting in Fareham shortly before the announcement was made.

More than 450 people had their lives shortened at the hospital while another 200 were “probably” similarly given opioids between 1989 and 2000 without medical justification, according to the Gosport Independent Panel report released last year.

Ian Sandford, whose mother Hazel Felicity Sandford died at the hospital, attended the meeting and welcomed the latest investigation. He told reporters he was “very glad” Kent Police were taking on the investigation, but had reservations about how thorough any fresh inquiry could be because of the time that had passed since the deaths.

“They should have sorted this out a long time ago,” he said.

Last July, the head of serious crime at Kent and Essex Police announced a review of the evidence that had emerged from the report, which found “there was a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening lives of a large number of patients” at the hospital.

The report said there was an “institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified”.

Relatives of some of those who died at the hospital have campaigned for prosecutions to be brought over the deaths.

Three previous investigations into 92 of the deaths by Hampshire Constabulary resulted in no charges being brought.

In 2010, the British General Medical Council ruled that Dr Jane Barton – who has since retired – was guilty of multiple instances of professional misconduct relating to 12 patients who died at the hospital. In a statement last year, Dr Barton said she was a “hard-working doctor” who was “doing her best” for patients in a “very inadequately resourced” part of Britain’s National Health Service.

The Medical Defence Union, which represents Dr Barton, said she did not wish to comment on the latest development.

In November the British government announced that NHS whistleblowers were to be given better protection in a bid to improve patient safety in the wake of the scandal.

The Department of Health and Social Care also set out plans to change the law to compel every NHS trust in England to report annually on how concerns raised by staff and patients had been addressed. – PA