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Police investigation into Gosport deaths.

A new police investigation is to be held into the deaths of hundreds of patients who were given “dangerous levels” of painkillers at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

An inquiry which reported in June found more than 450 patients died after being given the drugs.

Three previous investigations into 92 of the deaths by Hampshire Constabulary resulted in no charges being brought.

The new investigation, being led by head of serious crime at Kent and Essex Police, assistant chief constable, Nick Downing, follows an inquiry by the Gosport Independent Panel that said the quality of previous police investigations had been "consistently poor.”

The panel, led by Bishop James Jones, found that whistleblowers and families were ignored as they attempted to raise concerns about the administration of medication on the wards overseen by Dr Jane Barton.

It concluded that there was a "disregard for human life" involving a large number of patients from 1989 to 2000.

Dr Barton retired after being found guilty by a medical panel of failings in her care of 12 patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1996 and 1999.

The scope of the new police investigation, due to start next month (September 2018) has not yet been decided, the force said.

The June report said that,  taking into account missing records, a further 200 patients may have suffered a similar fate to the 450 identified cases.

The report said that there was an "institutionalised regime" of prescribing and administering dangerous amounts of a medication not clinically justified at the Hampshire hospital.
 Bridget Reeves, whose grandmother Elsie Divine, 88, died at the hospital in 1999, said: "These horrifying, shameful, unforgivable actions need to be disclosed in a criminal court for a jury to decide. Only then can we put our loved ones to rest."

Former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, said: "The documents seen by the panel show that, for a 12-year period, a clinical assistant, Dr Barton, was responsible for the practice of prescribing on the wards.

"Although the consultants were not involved directly in treating patients on the wards, the medical records show that they were aware of how drugs were prescribed and administered but did not intervene to stop the practice."

The document said families were consistently let down by those in authority, both medical individuals and institutions, when they complained about the treatment of their loved ones.

Bishop Jones, who also headed the Hillsborough Inquiry, said: "It's not for the panel to ascribe criminal or civil liability. It will be for any future judicial processes to determine whatever culpability and criticism might be forthcoming."

The report added: "The police focused on the allegation that Dr Barton was guilty of unlawful killing, rather than pursuing a wider investigation.

"Hampshire Constabulary approached Dr Barton's managers, including the then chief executive at the trust and the responsible consultant, Dr Althea Lord, in a way that ignored the possibility that they too might have been subject to investigation."

The panel found officers had a mindset of seeing family members who complained as stirring up trouble while seeing the hospital as the place to go for guidance and assurance during their inquiries.

The report added: "There was an institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering dangerous doses of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified, with patients and relatives powerless in their relationship with professional staff."

Nursing staff first raised concerns about the poor prescribing and administration of opioids at Gosport Memorial Hospital nearly 30 years ago but their fears were silenced by management, the inquiry revealed.

The report said the nurses gave the hospital a chance to rectify the practice and in choosing not to do so "deaths resulted and, 22 years later, it became necessary to establish this panel in order to discover the truth of what happened.”

Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, said the report made for "very sober reading for everybody involved in the care of patients".

"Nursing as a profession must work hard to seek out lessons from Gosport and we expect that approach to be shared by regulators and the health and care system," she added.

"The report is right to praise the bravery shown by the nurses who raised concerns. It highlights how difficult it can be for nursing staff to challenge the decisions taken by others."

The panel included geriatric medicine specialist, Dr Colin Currie; investigative journalist, David Hencke; former Scotland Yard commander, Duncan Jarrett and pathology and medical records expert, Dr Bill Kirkup.