Times caption: Jane Barton is said to have led a regime where medically unjustified drugs were given (CHRIS ISON/PA)
In a famous case in 2000, Dr Harold Shipman was convicted of killing 215 patients under his care. He hanged himself in his prison cell four years later.
A piece by Jaya Narain in today’s Times, on the deaths of 456 elderly patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, more than twice the number of elderly people killed by Harold Shipman. It appears on p.17 of the paper, following a larger space devoted to an article about the new second roof at Wimbledon. The Times piece:
A hospital doctor faces a new police investigation into the deaths of 456 patients who had been given “dangerous” doses of powerful painkillers.
An inquiry concluded last year that Jane Barton, nicknamed Dr Opiate, had led an “institutionalised regime” in which the drugs were prescribed without medical justification at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire. Patients considered a “nuisance” were allegedly given syringe drivers filled with opiates that killed them within days of arriving.
Yesterday police announced a new investigation into the deaths of patients between 1987 and 2001. Nick Downing, assistant chief constable of Kent police, which is overseeing the investigation, said that if causation were proved and suspects identified, “all homicide charges including murder” would be on the table. “The families . . . are at the heart of everything we do and I hope the news that we will now be carrying out a full investigation is of some comfort,” he said. “The investigation is not about numbers, it is about people.”
The new police investigation, which will be the fourth, has been agreed after an assessment of the inquiry report to establish whether it contained sufficient information not already submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service. Families of patients who died have made allegations of an establishment cover-up, and called yesterday for hospital staff, including Dr Barton, now 70, to face criminal charges.
Ian Sandford, 75, whose mother Hazel died of pneumonia at the hospital in 1990, aged 80, said: “Manslaughter and all those charges aren’t good enough. I want murder charges.”
Charles Farthing, 79, said his stepfather, Arthur Cunningham, 79, had died four days after being admitted with bed sores, and had been prescribed high doses of opiates. Bridget Reeves, whose grandmother, Elsie Devine, 88, died in 1998 after being admitted with a urinary tract infection, said staff should face charges including “murder, manslaughter and corporate manslaughter”. She said: “The Gosport families were deceived . . . this immoral disaster was perpetuated by a club culture. When concerns came to light all those years ago the officials protected each other.”
The inquiry said there had been a “disregard for human life” at the hospital and an “institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated”. The health authorities, hospital bosses and local MP had repeatedly failed to take appropriate action, it added, and the perception Dr Barton had been a “lone wolf” operating alone “rapidly took root”.
Dr Barton was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in 2010 for failing in her care of 12 patients between 1996 and 1999. She was allowed to continue practising but was given 11 conditions that included a ban on administering opiates by injection.
Last year she said that she had been a “hardworking doctor” who was “doing her best” for patients in a “very inadequately resourced” part of the NHS.
The Medical Defence Union, which represents Dr Barton, said yesterday that she did not wish to comment.
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