‘Blame culture’ must end as pressure mounts for criminal proceedings after tragic Gosport Hospital deaths

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Specialist medical negligence solicitor Susan Hotchin who has extensive experience investigating suspicious deaths, the use of inappropriate medication and who was involved in the Shipman Inquiry, gives her view on the shocking report into the events at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

News of the Gosport War Memorial Hospital deaths has sent shockwaves across the country. Yesterday (20 June 2018), a damning report revealed that more than 450 patients had died at the hospital after wrongly being given strong painkillers.

According to an independent panel, a further 200 people may also have been affected through an institutionalised practice of prescribing unnecessary opioids (powerful drugs used to treat pain after surgery, trauma or health conditions such as cancer).

The report found that there was a ‘disregard for human life’ with the administration of ‘dangerous amounts of medication’ which led to the premature deaths of hundreds of elderly patients at the hospital.

Dr. Jane Barton oversaw the practice of prescribing medicines on the ward. She was found guilty of failings in her care at Gosport between 1996 and 1999. However, no prosecutions were ever brought even though the General Medical Council (GMC) found her guilty of ‘serious professional misconduct’ in 2010. She was not struck off the medical register and instead, chose to retire after the findings.

The Prime Minister Theresa May described the events as “deeply troubling” and apologised to the families about how long it has taken for them to get answers from the NHS.

Understandably, families are today calling for prosecutions and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt vowed that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will examine the material in the report to consider their next steps and “whether criminal charges should now be brought”. He called for an end to the “blame culture” in the health service.

The prospect that the wrongful practice of prescribing unnecessary medications is happening in other hospitals in the UK is a cause for concern for everyone.

Leading healthcare academic, Professor Sir Brian Jarman, has said that it is “likely” that these failings are being repeated in other NHS hospitals and that he would “not be at all surprised” if the issues which allowed Gosport to become a national scandal were happening elsewhere.

Echoing Jeremy Hunt’s comments about the “blame culture” in the NHS, he pointed out that whistle-blowers were still being blacklisted for raising the alarm about malpractice.

This is despite the fact that over the years there has been a number of guidelines and policies introduced to improve patient care and bring about a cultural shift in the NHS. Most notably, the Duty of Candour legislation which came into effect in the NHS in 2014. This was introduced making it a statutory duty for clinicians and healthcare providers to be open and honest with patients and their families when something goes wrong that caused (or could cause) significant harm.

Clearly, there are significant difficulties trying to centrally legislate for organisational cultural change. Perhaps more needs to be done at an organisational level within our hospitals where the culture pervades every aspect of its day-to-day activities?

At Novum Law, we deal every day with the devastating consequences of medical negligence. However, the sheer volume of patients affected at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital and the extent to which they and their loved ones have been let down by the system is incredibly shocking.

What happens next is for the relevant authorities to decide but it is clear that there can be no place for a culture of blame and silence when it comes to people’s lives and the NHS.

The hope now is that a full investigation will take place that is open and transparent to all of the families involved so that they can at last get the answers they so desperately need and to ensure that lessons are learnt so that others do not have to suffer the way they have over the last several decades.

If you have been affected by the events at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, we have the experience and expertise in medical negligence matters to help.

To find out more, you can contact Susan Hotchin, senior solicitor at Novum Law on: 01983 216964 or email: shotchin@novumlaw.com.

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