FAMILY members of more than 456 patients who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital have told of their unquenched thirst for justice for their relatives and insisted: This is not the end for us.
Scores of relatives gathered at Portsmouth Cathedral yesterday for the findings of the Gosport Independent Panel to be told by Bishop James Jones: ‘You were right.’
Some of those who for 20 years have demanded answers as to how their loved ones died were left in tears at the four-year panel’s finding that up to 650 patients died after being given opioids ‘without medical justification’.
After analysing thousands of documents the panel found that at the hospital between 1989 and 2000 there was:
• A disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of patients.
• An institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified.
• Authorities including senior hospital management, healthcare bodies, the Crown Prosecution Service, Hampshire police, General Medical Council (GMC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) all ‘failed’ the families.
• Despite missing medical records the £14m panel said another 200 people, on top of the 456 patients, ‘probably’ died as a result of the unjustified use of opioids.
Gillian Mackenzie, whose mother Gladys Richards died aged 91 in 1998 at the hospital, was the first to go to police.
Speaking to The News yesterday, she said: ‘When there’s a conviction in the criminal court, that will be justice for all these families.’
The 84-year-old said she wanted to see the prosecution of individuals, with the 15 strongest cases going in front of a criminal court.
She said: ‘We’ve got a long way to go. I’m not putting up with corporate liability.
‘This case has got to be heard in a criminal court.
‘I don’t care whether my case is in court because after (Dr Harold) Shipman only 15 cases can be heard in a criminal court.’
Long-criticised Dr Jane Barton, whose time as clinical assistant at the hospital matched the dates of opioid use, was previously found guilty of misconduct. She has not responded to the findings.
Panel members stopped short of ascribing civil or criminal liability to any individual as it was out of the investigation’s remit.
But at a press conference the Rt Rev Jones – who was praised personally and for his work – said: ‘The doctors, the clinical assistant, the nurses were aware of the effect of the drugs they were administering and that’s why we ascribe it as an institutionalised process.’
He called on Hampshire police’s chief constable Olivia Pinkney, the home secretary Sajid Javid and health secretary Jeremy Hunt to ‘act accordingly’ and recognise the ‘significance’ of the report.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the House of Commons that police, the CPS and clinicians should ‘carefully examine’ the report ‘before determining their next steps and in particular whether criminal charges should now be brought’.
He indicated any organisation with an ‘institutional vested interest in the outcome’ should not be involved in future investigations.
Families watched on TV Mr Hunt and prime minister Theresa May apologising in the Commons for the delay in getting answers.
Relatives were given a briefing by the bishop ahead of the report being published. Pamela Byrne, whose stepfather Clifford Houghton died aged 71 in 1994, was in the cathedral to hear the findings.
The devoted daughter, 75, of Titchfield, said: ‘The bishop opened by saying “yes you were right”, meaning collectively all our concerns had been confirmed.
‘It was almost like you let out your breath. It’s just relief but then you feel a bit of guilt there as well.
‘I would like to see somebody held accountable, people held accountable, it can’t have been just one. There were other doctors involved. Nurses involved. They knew, they were trained.’
‘Brave’ nurses who raised concerns as early 1991 gave the hospital a chance to stop the prescribing of opioids, but ‘the opportunity was lost, deaths resulted and 22 years later it became necessary to establish this panel,’ the damning report said.
It added: ‘The documents therefore tell a story of missed opportunity and warnings unheeded.’
Surrounded by the media on the cathedral’s lawn, Bridget Reeves, the granddaughter of Elsie Devine, who died aged 88 in 1999, said: ‘As victims of crime we are all entitled to have an explanation when an alleged injustice has occurred, but this has been sinister, calculated and those implicated must now face the full rigor of the criminal justice system.
‘Accountability must take precedence; these horrifying, shameful, unforgivable actions need to be disclosed in a criminal court for a jury to decide.’
Three investigations by Hampshire police found evidence that indicated ‘offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and/or corporate manslaughter, might have been committed,’ the panel found.
But it said prosecutions were not ‘fully or properly considered’. Mrs Pinkney said a process must be in place for ‘relevant agencies (to) come together, to enable decisions about next steps’. She earlier said the panel saw documents police had not.
n Our front page shows just eight of the people whose deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital formed part of the inquiry. From left: Elsie Devine, Brian Cunningham, Enid Spurgeon, Robert Wilson, Sheila Gregory, Geoffrey Packman, Ruby Lane and Gladys Richards.