EVERY death will be examined and protections for whistleblowers strengthened in the wake of the Gosport War Memorial Hospital scandal, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
The announcement today comes after the Gosport Independent Panel revealed in June 456 patients died and 200 more ‘probably’ had their lives shortened after being given opioids ‘without medical justification’ at the hospital, between 1989 and 2001.
Making a statement on government action following the panel’s findings, Mr Hancock said: ‘From April next year medical examiners will be introduced across England to ensure every death is scrutinised by either a coroner or a medical examiner.’
He added: ‘Every NHS trust in England now has someone in place who whistleblowers can speak to in confidence without fear of being penalised.’
Mr Hancock made ‘a profound and unambiguous apology’ on behalf of the government for the ‘hurt and anguish’ endured by grieving families of those who died at the hospital.
He said: ‘It's not just the case these were preventable deaths but deaths directly caused by the actions of others and it's a deeply troubling account of people dying at the hands of those who were supposed to care.
‘The failures were made worse because whistleblowers were not listened to, investigations fell short and lessons failed to be learned.
‘Relatives felt betrayed by those in authority and made to feel like troublemakers for asking legitimate questions.’
The death toll at Gosport could have been reduced by hundreds had whistleblowers been listened to, Mr Hancock told the Commons.
He said: ‘Nurses raised concerns as far back as 1988 but were ignored or sidelined.
‘More than 100 families raised concerns over two decades but they were ignored and patronised.
‘Frail, elderly patients were seen as problems to be managed rather than patients to be cared for.
‘Perhaps the most harrowing part of the report is when it makes clear that if action had been taken when problems were first raised then hundreds fewer would have died.’
Mr Hancock also set out a raft of changes, including a review of laws regulating prescription drug controls and whistleblower protections, which will include new legislation to ‘compel NHS trusts to report annually on how concerns raised by staff have been addressed’.
He also said Hampshire police had investigated hospital deaths at Gosport three times without finding any wrongdoing.
‘Because of Hampshire police failures a different police force has been brought in. A new external police team is now independently assessing the evidence and will decide whether to launch a full investigation,’ he said.
‘They must be allowed to complete that process and follow the evidence so justice can be done.’
The health secretary added: ‘Taken together it means the warning signs about untypical patterns of death are more likely to be seen at the time and not 25 years later.’