What does it take to stop such unnecessary loss of life within the NHS?
An independent panel set up almost 4 years ago by the then Care Minister Norman Lamb MP recently found that opioids shortened 456 lives at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1989 and 2000.
The panel not only found that there was a “disregard for human life”, but that possibly another 200 additional deaths were caused by the flagrant overuse and inappropriate administration of painkillers.
Sadly, concerns were first raised 30 years previously, by a nurse who reported the situation to the Royal College of Nursing. Despite whistleblowing by other nurses at the hospital and also the concerns of relatives, police investigations, involving the staff and Trust Chief Executive, failed to result in prosecutions.
What is opioid medication?
Opiate/opioid painkillers are medicines with effects similar to opium. They act by stimulating opioid receptors in the brain and nervous system. There are a large number of these medicines including codeine, morphine, dihydrocodeine, methadone, buprenorphine and diamorphine (also known as heroin). In essence, these types of medications are some of the strongest produced by pharmaceutical companies.
Dr Jane Barton, a clinical assistant at the Hospital oversaw the practice of prescribing the extremely strong painkillers on the wards. So far only Dr Barton has faced disciplinary proceedings and although she was found guilty of misconduct she wasn’t struck off the medical register and instead retired.
No criminal proceedings have yet been brought against Dr Barton, or indeed the then Chief Executive at the Trust or the Lead Consultant, Dr Anthea Lord.
Mid Staffs Hospital Crisis repeated?
The findings of the Gosport independent panel echo a scandal which enveloped Mid Staffs Hospital in 2009. In February 2013, Robert Frances QC, concluded after a 31 month long public enquiry that between 400 and 1200 patients had died as a result of poor care at the hospital over a 50 month period.
As in the recent hospital crisis, early complaints and warnings given by hospital staff were ignored and the matter was only taken seriously after the death of 86 year old Bella Bailey, whose daughter Julie set up a campaign group “Cure the NHS”.
The report concluded that there was a “complete failure of the management to address serious problems and monitor performance”.
Many commentators post the Mid Staffs crisis stated that “it must never happen again” and looked to the outcome and conclusions of Robert Francis QC to ensure that the lessons were truly learnt.
Clearly the latest scandal to hit the NHS shows that lessons have not been learned following Mid Staffs. When I heard the findings of the Gosport independent panel, I was not only saddened but unsurprised. Complaints by families, staff and professionals were ignored. Family members were seen as complainers and troublemakers, rather than having their concerns investigated and addressed.
When considering a clinical negligence claim, I encourage all clients to make a formal complaint. Often the response from the Doctor or Trust is unhelpful, insensitive and can often, trivialise the complaint.
Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health has commented that the findings are truly shocking and where necessary criminal investigations will be considered by the Police and CPS.
The real question is, how many more of these scandals will continue and how many more unnecessary deaths will occur, before significant and long lasting action is taken.
If you have been affected by this story or believe that you have been the victim of medical negligence, call the Farleys team on 0845 287 0939 or contact us by email.