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21.06.18

Gosport scandal: ‘Blame culture’ must end says Hunt, practice ‘probably repeated elsewhere’

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt has hit back at claims from an expert on hospital mortality that the Gosport War Memorial scandal could be replicated elsewhere in the NHS.

Prof Sir Brian Jarman, of the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial College London, said the practice that saw at least 450 people have their lives shortened due to “dangerous” dosages of opioid drugs could be repeated because information on death rates are not being properly assessed by health officials.

Staff at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire were accused of prescribing patients with opiates from between 1989 and 2000, with family relatives claiming that some had lives cut short due to overdoses of diamorphine, led by now-retired Dr Jane Barton in the 1990s.

The report findings were established by Bishop James Jones, who ran the Hillsborough inquiry. Jones said that practice from staff at the hospitals was an “institutionalised practice of shortening lives,” but added that the Gosport Independent Panel could not ascribe criminal liability.

The professor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he would “not be at all surprised” if the practices at Gosport were repeated elsewhere. He added there was "a desire not to know" about failings in the NHS that sees whistleblowers "fired, gagged and blacklisted."

The Gosport Independent Panel, in its assessment of whether the issue was raised by staff at the time, said: “Their warnings went unheeded and the opportunity to rectify the practice was lost, deaths resulted and 22 years later it became necessary to establish the panel in order to discover the truth of what happened."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Prof Jarman echoed this view, adding that "nobody dare” whistleblow in the NHS.

Jeremy Hunt, responding to the claims on the Today programme, said that the fear of blame culture is “changing but it has a long way to go,” adding that the NHS needs to tackle the “blame culture” and turn that into a learning culture.

He went on: "If you are a doctor or a nurse and you see something going wrong – even if you are perhaps responsible for a mistake yourself – the most important thing, the thing that families want if they are bereaved or if they have a tragedy, is to know that the NHS isn't going to make that mistake again."

Of the 833 deaths assessed by the panel, over half (456) of patients were deemed to have died through the inappropriate describing of drugs. As many as 200 further patients may have died as a result of staff administering opioids without medical justification, but records could not be found in those cases.

The panel called for health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt, home secretary Sajid Javid, the attorney general, the chief constable of Hampshire Police and any relevant investigative authorities to recognise the significance of what is revealed about the circumstances of deaths at the hospital and act accordingly.

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Image credit: Dominic Lipinski, PA Images

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