Gosport hospital deaths: Panel had information ‘not previously seen by our force’, says Hampshire chief
A chief constable has admitted its investigators were ‘blindsided’ as a damning report found the lives of 456 people were shortened after they were given powerful painkillers in hospital.
As Hampshire Constabulary today fended off calls for criminal prosecutions following the findings of the Gosport Independent Panel, its chief constable, Olivia Pinkney, called for a united multi-agency approach to ensure “transparency” moving forward for all grieving families.
The force previously carried out three investigations between 1998 and 2006 into the deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital but despite detailed assessments from medical experts being presented to the Crown Prosecution Service and Treasury Counsel – the evidential test for prosecution was “not met”.
Ms Pinkney said the force had fully co-operated with the panel, sharing more than 25,000 documents containing 100,000 pages of information.
But the publication of the 370-page report showed the panel had sight of information “not previously seen by Hampshire Constabulary”.
Relatives of elderly patients who died at the hospital branded the report findings “chilling” and called for police charges to be brought.
Ms Pinkney stressed the importance of taking time to “properly digest the significance of what has been revealed”.
In a statement to Police Professional on Thursday (June 21), she added: “It is important that a process is put in place to ensure that all of the relevant agencies come together, to enable decisions about next steps to be made in a way that is well considered and transparent to all of the families.
“Today is about the relatives of those who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital and their opportunity to obtain a better understanding of what happened to their loved ones.
“The report that has been published by the Gosport Independent Panel examines the concerns raised by families over a number of years about the initial care of relatives at Gosport War Memorial Hospital and the subsequent investigations by a number of agencies into their deaths.”
The panel, led by the former Bishop of Liverpool the Rt Rev James Jones, found that whistleblowers and families were ignored as they attempted to raise concerns about the administration of medication at the hospital.
It also said, taking into account missing records, a further 200 patients may have suffered a similar fate.
Following the release of the report, Health and Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs: “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.”
He said any further investigations should be carried out by organisations not involved in previous probes, hinting that Hampshire Constabulary should bring in another force.
He added: “There was a catalogue of failings by the local NHS, Hampshire Constabulary, the GMC, the NMC, the coroners and – as steward of the system – the Department of Health.
“Had the establishment listened when junior NHS staff spoke out, had the establishment listened when ordinary families raised concerns instead of treating them as troublemakers, many of those deaths would not have happened.”
Mr Hunt said the “blame” culture in the NHS has to change to help uncover scandals such as the deaths at Gosport hospital.
He said it was sometimes made too difficult for whistleblowers to raise concerns or for medics to admit mistakes, and the NHS had to be more open to acknowledging problems and learning from them.
Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In an organisation of 1.4 million people, unfortunately you are going to get malpractice, you are going to get some people who do the wrong thing.
“You can never say that that will be totally eliminated but I do think we would find out about that much, much sooner these days with all the things we have put in place.”
The Gosport panel 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”.
The panel said the case of GP Harold Shipman, who was jailed in 2000 for murdering 15 patients, had “cast a long shadow” over events at the hospital.
The perception that Dr Barton might be a “lone wolf” operating alone “rapidly took root”, the report said.
In 2010, the General Medical Council ruled that Dr Barton, who has since retired, was guilty of multiple instances of professional misconduct relating to 12 patients who died at the hospital.
Several documents reviewed by the panel referred to the Shipman case.
However the Rt Rev Jones said events at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital were distinct, because they showed a “failure of the institution”.