Sunday Times caption: Dr Jane Barton oversaw a regime under which at least 450 patients died early (SOLENT NEWS)
A piece in today’s Sunday Times. It’s inconceivable that a male doctor in Jane Barton’s position would not yet have faced charges over such a matter.
A doctor found responsible for hundreds of deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital should be prosecuted, according to a former senior police officer who led an investigation into the scandal.
Steve Watts, who was an assistant chief constable of Hampshire, will add to the pressure on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to bring charges against Dr Jane Barton. Watts said it was a “big mistake” not to prosecute her after his 2002 inquiry into the deaths of 92 patients.
In BBC1’s Panorama tomorrow, Watts says the evidence is “strong enough” to bring before a court. He adds: “It was strong enough then. And I think there was an overriding public interest in . . . doing so.” He says failing to bring charges was a “big mistake” and recalls thinking: “This will end up in a public inquiry and eventually . . . will go before a court.”
In June last year a government inquiry found that Barton, dubbed “Dr Opiate”, had overseen a regime at the Gosport hospital in which painkillers were inappropriately administered and at least 450 patients died prematurely.
The inquiry panel, led by James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool, said there had been a “disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients” at the hospital while she worked there between 1988 and 2000.
Barton, 70, now retired and still living in Gosport, has always denied any wrongdoing. She was in charge of prescribing on the wards where the elderly patients died. She signed 854 death certificates during her 12-year tenure; 803 of the deaths involved the administration of opiates through syringe-drivers.
The victims’ families are waiting to see if a new police investigation led by Nick Downing, assistant chief constable and head of serious crime at Kent and Essex police, will lead to criminal charges.
Downing, who launched the inquiry in July, told the families at a meeting last week that the police are due to report by the spring. Officers launched an investigation into 92 of the deaths in 2002 but the CPS decided in 2006 that there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
Over the past two decades there have been more police and NHS inquiries as well as a report by Richard Baker, a professor at Leicester University, which said opiate painkillers prescribed at the hospital from 1988 “almost certainly shortened the lives of some patients”. The report was completed in 2003 but not published until 2013 until inquests and police inquiries had been completed.
Many of the patients under Barton’s care had been transferred from an acute hospital where they had been admitted with a serious illness or for major surgery. Others were under her supervision after a hip operation or a broken shoulder.
Baker’s review of patients’ deaths at Gosport examined Barton’s medical records and found she had a “conservative rather than active attitude towards clinical management” and preferred palliative care rather than recovery, even for patients with non-life threatening injuries such as fractures.
Although the former GP has remained tight-lipped about her time at the hospital, her husband Tim Barton issued a statement on her behalf after the inquiry panel reported in June.
He said his wife had “always maintained that she was a hardworking, dedicated doctor, doing the best for her patients in a very inadequately resourced part of the health service”.
Barton was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Panorama’s Killed in Hospital will be on BBC1 tomorrow at 8.30pm
You can subscribe to The Times here.
If everyone who read this gave us £10.00 – or even better, £10.00 or more, monthly – we could change the world. Click here to make a difference. Thanks.