Gosport War Memorial Deaths: What happened at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital? What is Operation Magenta? What are the most recent updates?

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Investigations are continuing after hundreds of patients at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital died after being given opiates inappropriately between 1987 and 2001.

The ‘complex’ investigation into the deaths of hundreds of patients who died whilst they were under the care of the community hospital has been ongoing for years after families began questioning the administration of medication. And today police say they have identified 19 suspects .

The death of Gladys Richard, a ‘frail 91-year-old’ who went into the hospital for rehab following a hip operation, was the start of ‘one of the largest and most complex’ investigations ‘of its nature in the history of UK policing’.

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Gladys Richard’s family raised concern that they believed she had been unlawfully killed through the administration of medicine, which sparked one of the biggest hospital scandals in the country. Over the next few years, more and more families began stepping forward after a loved one had died whilst in the care of the hospital. There have since been numerous police and health investigations, reviews and inquiries – including a General Medical Council inquiry and multiple inquests into deaths at the hospital.

A review of deaths of the patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1987 and 2001, which was published on the government website in 2003, found that ‘the proportion of patients at Gosport who did receive opiates before death is remarkably high’.

It also said that it ‘is difficult to accept that the practice of almost routine use of opiates before death, dating from 1988 or earlier, merely represents clinical practice in advance of practice elsewhere’.

Within the review 20 years ago, a sample was taken of 81 patients at the hospital, 76 of whom had been given opiates before their death and 72 of them were given diamorphine. The Gosport Independent Panel, which was published in 2018, also investigated the deaths the hospital and they had been looking into the deaths since 2015.

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From the analysis the report found that ‘continuous opioids started at inappropriately high doses’, ‘few patients survived long after starting continuous opioids’ and the ‘prescription and administration of drugs contravened guidelines’.

Gosport War Memorial HospitalGosport War Memorial Hospital
Gosport War Memorial Hospital

The Independent Panel found that 456 patients died after being given opiates inappropriately between 1987 and 2001.

Was anyone held accountable?

Dr Jane Barton oversaw the practice of prescribing on the wards and is the only person to face disciplinary action and was found guilty of failings in her care of 12 patients between 1996 and 1999. But she was not struck off the medical register, choosing to retire after the findings were published.

In a statement in 2018, Dr Barton said she was a ‘hard-working doctor’ who was ‘doing her best’ for patients in a ‘very inadequately resourced’ part of the NHS.

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What are the most recent updates?

The ‘complex’ investigation is currently being dealt with by Kent Police, after it took over the case from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary. It has identified 19 suspects in connection with the deaths of the patients.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Jerome of Operation Magenta said: ‘The independent investigation into deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital is one of the largest and most complex of its nature in the history of UK policing. Our team consists of around 150 serving and retired detectives who have so far assessed more than three million pages of documents including the medical records of over 750 patients, and taken witness statements from more than 1,150 individual family members.

‘The investigation is ongoing and continues to make good progress, with 19 suspects currently identified. The interviews under caution remain ongoing. Whilst we have never provided anyone with an estimate of how long our enquiries will last, family members can be confident we are working as quickly and thoroughly as possible to ensure Operation Magenta is the decisive police investigation into what happened at Gosport.

‘Every single patient who died is important to us and their individual cases must be reviewed in full in order for an assessment to be made on their evidential strength. We also owe it to their families to investigate each death to the same high standard, and at the conclusion of the investigation all families who want to will be told everything we discovered about the nature of their care.

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‘It is these families who are at the heart of everything we do. We remain committed to building and maintaining trust and confidence among them and will continue to keep them updated on the progress of the investigation.’

What is Operation Magenta?

It was formed after the report by the Gosport Independent Panel discovered that hundreds of deaths at The Gosport War Memorial Hospital could be linked to the administration of opiates without possessing appropriate justification for their use.

Following an assessment of the report, a full police investigation was launched in May 2019.

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