Gosport War Memorial Hospital deaths: Regulator opens fitness to practise cases against registered nurses

SERVING nurses are facing disciplinary proceedings decades after working on wards at Gosport War Memorial Hospital where more than 650 patients had their lives cut short.

Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 2:07 pm
Bridget Reeves reads a statement to the press on behalf of the families in 2018 on the release of Gosport Independent Panel's report into deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has opened cases against a ‘number of registrants’ over concerns about ‘inappropriate opioid administration’ at the hospital between 1989 and 2000.

Investigators at the regulatory body have taken action after the Gosport Independent Panel report in 2018 found around 650 people died after being given powerful opioids without clinical justification.

But the NMC – said by the panel report to have previously ‘failed to act’ on concerns raised by patients’ families – has agreed to ‘pause’ its misconduct proceedings against nurses amid a criminal probe.

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Detectives are currently running the fourth criminal investigation into the deaths on wards at the Bury Road facility between 1987 and 2001.

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Pamela Byrne’s stepfather Clifford Houghton died at 71 after being admitted to the hospital in February 1994 so his wife could have respite.

Pamela, 78, of Titchfield Common, said: ‘I’m amazed with the time it has taken that any of them (the nurses) are still young enough to be working, obviously it’s snail pace and my thoughts are that most of the people who were culpable could die before we see any result from this.

‘None of us are getting any younger, it beggars belief that it’s taken this long.’

She added: ‘If their licence to practise is taken away I can’t imagine it will have too much effect unless it affects their pension.’

Mr Houghton died on the same day he was given two doses of the opioid diamorphine. The Hampshire coroner has granted an inquest into his death, one of four set to take place.

Pamela added: ‘He didn’t go in for any treatment… he was to be in for a couple of weeks.

‘I would like to see justice for him, he didn’t deserve it – none of them did.’

Tom Scott, interim director of professional regulation at the NMC, said: ‘Following our review of Gosport Independent Panel’s report we have identified a number of registrants in connection with the concerns the panel raised about inappropriate opioid administration between 1989 and 2000 and have opened fitness to practise cases for these registrants.

‘We have agreed with the police conducting the connected criminal investigation that we will pause our work so as not to risk impacting the criminal investigation and are in regular dialogue with the police to understand when we will be able to continue with our work.

‘As with all of our fitness to practise work, if we receive any information indicating an immediate risk to public or patient safety, we will take appropriate regulatory action.’

The General Medical Council regulates doctors and has no cases open against anyone.

A spokesman said: ‘We are in regular contact with Operation Magenta to ensure we’re informed about any new fitness to practise concerns about doctors, and will take swift action if we identify an immediate risk to patient safety. In line with our disclosure policies, we’re unable to provide any further detail on individual allegations or cases.’

Dr Jane Barton was investigated and a fitness to practise panel previously found her guilty of serious professional misconduct, imposing conditions on her registration in 2010/11. She was later granted voluntary erasure from the register, and is not allowed to practise medicine.

Previous NMC failings

The NMC’s predecessor body opened cases against three nurses in May 2001.

But the 2018 panel report found it relied on Portsmouth NHS trust’s own findings about concerns raised about the death of a patient, 91-year-old Gladys Richards, rather than carrying out its own investigation.

As the years went by, the NMC looked at five cases but its in-house lawyer deemed there to be ‘insufficient evidence of misconduct,’ the panel report said.

The lawyer did acknowledge the possibility of misconduct in nurses failing to challenge ‘inappropriate prescribing’ in two cases.

A committee ultimately decided not to proceed with the five cases.

The panel report also said the NMC was ‘extremely cautious’ not to prejudice previous parallel police investigations – but that this meant a delay in considering the cases was ‘excessive’.

The NMC did not communicate with families between August 2002 and June 2010, when the cases were dropped.

In December 2019 the NMC said ‘we let many people down in our response to care failings’ at the Gosport hospital, and added ‘for that we are very sorry’.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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