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Gosport Opioid deaths: The Health Secretary issues an apology

Gosport Opioid deaths: The Health Secretary issues an apology

This week, a shocking report has revealed how 450 patient’s lives were cut short at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Hampshire.

The report concluded that this was the result of prescribing and administering strong painkillers without medical justification.

The Health Secretary confirmed that there were a catalogue of failings including:

  • A pattern of concerning opioid prescribing between 1989 to 2000. Nurses warnings date back to 1991 but were ‘unheeded’;
  • In 456 patients there was evidence of opioid use without appropriate clinical indication;
  • There were also missing records and it was suggested that another 200 patients may have been affected;
  • There was a ‘disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients;
  • There was an institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of drugs without medical justification;
  • Over a 12 year period, clinical assistant Dr Jane Barton, was responsible for prescribing;
  • Nurses had the responsibility to challenge prescribing, but continued to administer the drugs;
  • Consultants were not involved in treating patients, but were aware of how drugs were being prescribed and did not intervene to stop the practice;
  • Patients and relatives were ‘powerless’ in their relationship with professional staff;
  • When relatives complained about the safety of patients and the appropriateness of their care they were consistently let down by individuals and authorities;
  • The Senior management of the hospital, healthcare organisations, Hampshire Police, local politicians the coroner system, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Nursing and Midwife Council all failed to act in ways that would have better protected patients and relatives.

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said “Nothing I say today will lessen the anguish and pain of families who have campaigned for 20 years after the loss of a loved one, but I can at least on behalf of the government and NHS apologise for what happened and what they have been through,”.

It was established that Diamorphine was the main life-shortening opioid drug given to patients, often in a syringe-driver, which was attached to the patient’s back and ensured a constant dosage.

The report recounted the testimony of Pauline Spilka, a nurse who gave evidence to the Hampshire police in 2001 during their inquiries. She said she had never heard of a syringe-driver before she worked at Gosport.

She later learned it was used to give drugs to seriously ill patients. “It was also clear to me that any patient put on to a syringe-driver would die shortly after,” Spilka told police at the time. “During the whole time I worked there I do not recall a single instance of a patient not dying having been put into a driver.”

The daughter of a patient treated at the hospital during this period was quoted as saying “It was quite a shock – for the first time somebody telling me what I knew 18 years ago. I want the people responsible for the deaths of our loved ones. We want them back in the criminal court. That’s the way it should go.”

Johnathan Steventon-Kiy, specialist Clinical Negligence Lawyer says,

“This report highlights some appalling findings and clear systemic failings from not only those administering “care” to these vulnerable patients, but also higher authorities and those in positions of influence. It is heart breaking to hear stories of family members who were aware that the treatment regime given at the time was not right but were not listened. They have had to live with this for such a long time and most will not have been able to move on properly knowing there were questions that remained unanswered. Whilst nothing will ever bring back those loved ones that fell victim to the practises at Gosport, the result of enquiry may go some way to easing the pain for those bereaved relatives”.

Johnathan Steventon-Kiy and the Clinical Negligence team at Swain & Co Solicitors regularly win compensation for their clients who have experienced substandard treatment. If you, a family member or a friend have experienced problems regarding substandard medical treatment contact our team today on 02392 483 322. 

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