Police examine 15,000 death certificates at scandal-hit ‘Dr Opiate’ hospital where up to 650 patients fed powerful painkillers died early
- ‘Dr Opiate’ Jane Barton was held responsible for policies which led to deaths
- Hundreds died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1988 and 2000
- Inquiry said 450 people had lives cut short after allegedly being given opiates
- Also said another 200 ‘probably’ also given opioids between 1989 and 2000
- Now, Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate are managing the investigation
Dr Jane Barton – dubbed Dr Opiate – was held responsible for policies which led to the deaths of hundreds patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital while she worked there between 1988 and 2000
Police are examining 15,000 death certificates at the scandal-hit ‘Dr Opiate’ hospital where up to 650 patients fed powerful painkillers died early.
Dr Jane Barton – dubbed Dr Opiate – was held responsible for policies which led to the deaths of hundreds patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital while she worked there between 1988 and 2000.
A 2018 inquiry said she presided over an ‘institutionalised regime’ which saw more than 450 people have their lives cut short after allegedly being prescribed powerful opiates.
It said there was ‘a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening lives of a large number of patients’ at the hospital – and said another 200 people were ‘probably’ also given opioids between 1989 and 2000 without medical justification.
Now, Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate are managing the investigation, codenamed Operation Magenta.
The force has confirmed that officers are reviewing millions of pages of documents including 15,000 death certificates and 700 patient records.
Among those who died at the hospital were (top row, left to right) Geoffrey Packman, Gladys Richards, Robert Wilson and Stan Carby and (bottom row, left to right) Elsie Devine, Arthur Cunningham, Jean Stevens and Edna Purnell
Relatives (pictured) of some of those who died at the hospital have campaigned for prosecutions to be brought over the deaths, and last month called for a Hillsborough-model inquest
The families (pictured in 2018 after the report was disclosed) say repeated ineffective investigations into hundreds of deaths at the hospital have left relatives without any justice or closure.
A 2018 inquiry said Dr Barton presided over an ‘institutionalised regime’ which saw more than 450 people have their lives cut short after allegedly being prescribed powerful opiates. Pictured: Families of some of the people who died
The families have called for a new judge and jury inquest to be held rather than it be conducted by a coroner. Pictured: The relatives of those who died in 2018
What did the Gosport inquiry find?
Here are the key findings of the Gosport Independent Panel:
– A pattern of opioid prescribing appears to have started in 1989 and ended in 2000. Nurses first raised concerns in 1991 but the warnings were ‘unheeded’.
– Evidence was found of opioid use ‘without appropriate clinical indication’ in 456 patients.
– Taking into account missing records, at least another 200 patients were ‘probably’ also 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 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 coronial system, the Crown Prosecution Service, the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council ‘all failed to act in ways that would have better protected patients and relatives’.
Police announced there would be a fourth criminal investigation into practices at the hospital back in 2019, meaning Dr Barton could face criminal charges and go on trial in relation to the hundreds of deaths.
The report by the Gosport Independent Panel in 2018 said patients who were viewed as a ‘nuisance’ were given drugs on syringe drivers filled with opiates which killed them within days of their admittance into the hospital.
It said there was an ‘institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified’.
The inquiry – led by the former bishop of Liverpool James Jones – did not ascribe criminal or civil liability for the deaths.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Jerome said: ‘The independent police investigation into hundreds of deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Hampshire, between 1987 and 2001, is one of the largest and most complex of its nature in the history of UK policing.
‘The size of the Operation Magenta team, which consists of both serving and retired detectives from a number of police forces across the country – in addition to other members of police staff – has been increasing steadily since the investigation was launched in April 2019 and will soon total around 150 people.
‘Having such a large and experienced team enables us to progress at pace with the investigation, which currently involves the review of millions of pages of documents including more than 700 patient records, around 15,000 death certificates and a significant quantity of other seized materials.
‘We have so far taken at least one statement from every family currently engaged with the investigation and this work will continue when it is safe to do so and in line with the national Covid-19 restrictions.
‘We are also now contacting other non-family witnesses during the relevant time period, for the purposes of them also giving statements to aid the investigation.
‘We are continuing to keep the families updated and remain committed to carrying out a full and thorough investigation.’
Relatives of some of those who died at the hospital have campaigned for prosecutions to be brought over the deaths, and last month called for a Hillsborough-model inquest.
The families say repeated ineffective investigations into hundreds of deaths at the hospital have left relatives without any justice or closure.
They have called for a new judge and jury inquest to be held rather than it be conducted by a coroner.
It said there was ‘a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening lives of a large number of patients’ at the hospital (file image, pictured) – and said another 200 people were ‘probably’ also given opioids between 1989 and 2000 without medical justification
‘He was in there for rehab – not to DIE’: How father, 65, who had a mini stroke was dead less than 30 hours after arriving at hospital after Dr Opiate ‘told his family to ‘let nature take its course”
Former naval officer Stan Carby was just 65 when he was sent to the hospital for rehabilitation following a series of mini-strokes.
A large man, his weight ruled out being looked after at home and he was admitted to Daedalus ward at lunchtime on 26 April 1999.
His daughter Debbie Mackay, 54, a secretary from Gosport, said: ‘Generally his health was okay and he wasn’t in any pain and he was on nothing stronger than aspirin.
‘He was there for rehab so we hoped they’d be able to get him back on his feet but the following day they told us he had taken a turn for the worse.’
She said the family was devastated when they found him lying clammy and unresponsive on the ward.
They lifted him up to help him breathe and found a tube in his back – later identified as a morphine syringe driver.
The doctors told the family they were letting ‘nature take its course’ and he died 24 hours after he was admitted for rehab.
Mrs Mackay said: ‘It can’t be right for a man who was admitted to a hospital for rehab to die the following day. We knew something wasn’t right from the start. It has been a constant battle to have our concerns taken seriously.’
His widow, Rita Carby, fought tirelessly along with her daughter Cindy Grant, 44, and Debbie Mckay, 54, for justice but sadly she died in 2007 and will never see the results of the inquiry.
His daughter Cindy Grant, 44 , a cook, said: ‘It’s really upsetting my mum hasn’t been here to see this day but we are convinced the people who were responsible for this will be held to account.
‘I heard she was abroad but I didn’t expect she would have been here to face the music. We had a feeling she would be out of the country. Let’s hope she gets to hear what has happened today.
She said: ‘We are hoping criminal charges should be brought against not just those in charge but those who administered the drugs as well.’
Debbie McKay said: ‘It has been a long, long road to get to this point and it was a mixture of relief and emotion to hear what the Bishop said.’
Arthur ‘Brian’ Cunningham only went in to hospital over his bedsores
Arthur ‘Brian’ Cunningham, 79, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease was admitted to Gosport War Memorial Hospital on 21 September 1998 suffering from bed sores.
A combination of medical problems meant he could be cantankerous.
On his first night Mr Cunningham, who was also known as Arthur, became agitated so staff at the hospital gave him diamorphine to help quieten him down.
The next day his step-son, Charles Farthing, was told by nurses the drugs had been prescribed so he would remain calm.
However diamorphine was then increased four-fold over the following days and he died five days after being admitted,
Mr Farthing said that when he heard his step-father had been admitted her travelled to Gosport to visit him.
He said: ‘At that point a man, maybe a porter or cleaner, said to me: ‘That’s the death ward,’ which seemed stupid because Brian was nowhere near death, but I didn’t think too much of it.’
He said his step-father was attached to a syringe driver for regular morphine and midazolam – a strong sedative – and was unconscious.
He said: ‘He out of this world and I thought straight away they must be killing him, because my mum had been given a syringe driver just before she died of cancer in 1989.’
He said he demanded the driver be removed by Dr Barton refused and he died just five days after being admitted.
Mr Farthing said: ‘I’d like to see some action. Barton was utterly reckless in her prescribing, utterly reckless. She gave the nurses free licence to deal with these patients as they wished.’
His wife Anne said: ‘These people did not deserve to be put down like a dog, because that is what happened. These people lived their lives only for someone at the end to decide to play God and put an end to them.’
Elsie Devine, 88, been admitted to the small community hospital when her daughter Ann, with whom Elsie lived, had to go to London.
She initially kept busy and wrote to family and friends but died a month later after suffering what her family say was a kidney infection.
Relatives say she was ‘given enough drugs to lay out a six-foot violent man’.
In a formal complaint to doctors’ watchdog the General Medical Council, her daughter Ann said: ‘On November 18 1999, my mother was administered with a 25mcg fentanyl patch that was only licensed that year to be used for ‘chronic intractable pain due to cancer’.’
Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller which is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
The following morning, the complaint continues, ‘she was then injected with 50mg of chlorpromazine [a sedative used to treat paranoia and agitation], double the dose for a normal adult and far higher than what should be used on the frail elderly.
‘Fifty-five minutes later, our mum was started on a syringe driver with 40mg of midazolam, another strong sedative, pumping directly into her body. A further 40mg of diamorphine [a painkiller] was added, which is four times the recommended dose.’
Gladys Richards died in hospital in 1998
Gladys Richards was admitted to Gosport War Memorial Hospital in August 1998 for rehabilitation after a hip operation.
But her family became extremely concerned that very strong painkiller and sedative doses were being given to their mother even though she wasn’t in pain.
Mrs Richards died in the hospital days later, aged 91. Daughter Gillian Mackenzie then became one of the first to raise concerns about the ‘care’ patients were receiving at the hospital.
Mrs Mackenzie, now 85, said: ‘She wasn’t in any pain at all but they tried to give her diamorphine while we were there.
‘I think they wanted to keep her heavily sedated so they didn’t have to look after her. It was less work for the nurses.’
She said she was told by nurse manager Philip Beed: ‘I am going to make her life easier by giving her a shot of diamorphine.’ But she added: ‘I said ‘No you will not. You are not going to give my mother diamorphine’.’
However Mrs Richards was later sedated and given pain killers on a continuous basis and died five days later.
Jean Stevens had entered Gosport War Memorial Hospital for rehab after a stroke at the age of 73.
She was ‘bright as a button’ when she entered the now notorious Daedalus Ward in 1999. Yet she was quickly put on a cocktail of painkillers and sedatives and within two days was dead.
Her husband Ernest has been waiting for the truth about her death for nearly twenty years.
The Second World War veteran, now 92, said: ‘We had been planning a party for when she came home.
‘But the next day I went in and she was just laid out. I asked a nurse what the matter with her was and she just said: ‘I can’t really tell you’.
‘They had put her on a [drugs] pump straight away and she only opened her eyes once after that, just before she died. I truly believe my wife had quite a lot of time to go before she was put on those drugs.’
Robert Wilson begged his son to help him
Robert Wilson, 74, went into hospital for rehabilitation after a fractured shoulder. But he soon became concerned over the amount of drugs he was being given.
He begged his son Iain for help a day after being admitted with a broken arm, saying doctors were killing him.
His son told an inquest in 2009: ‘I said, ‘no they are not dad, they are trying to do their best for you’. The following day he was in a coma.’
His son said he nearly got ejected from the hospital when he questioned his father’s treatment, but now wishes he had done more to get him out.
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