A report has revealed that hundreds of patients have died prematurely at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire after being dosed with powerful opioid painkillers that were administered for no medical reason.
British health authorities are now considering whether or not to bring criminal charges against the hospital.
An independent medical panel found that the Southern English hospital had an institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering dangerous doses of opioids that were “not clinically … justified”.
It is alleged that between 1989 and 2000, at least 456 people had their lives shortened as a result, with a further 200, whose clinical notes were missing, “probably similarly affected”.
According to James Jones, the chair of the panel’s inquiry, patient records show “a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients by prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified”.
“They show too that, whereas a large number of patients and their relatives understood that their admission to the hospital was for either rehabilitation or respite care, they were, in effect, put on a terminal care pathway,” Jones continued.
The report said patients and relatives were “powerless in their relationship with hospital staff”, and that warnings from nurses had been ignored.
More than 140 000 patient records were examined during the three-year investigation. Relatives of the deceased patients had campaigned for the investigation to take place for several years.
British health secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament on Wednesday that police would work with the prosecutors to “carefully examine the new material in the report and whether criminal charges will now be brought”.
Hampshire police said it conducted three investigations from 1998 to 2006 into allegations by relatives of patients who died at the hospital, but prosecutors decided to take no action.
Retired doctor Jane Barton, who oversaw the hospital’s drug prescription and administration regime for 12 years, was found guilty of professional misconduct by the General Medical Council. But she wasn’t ordered to stop practising as a GP, and instead retired in 2011.
The report said the families of the dead have been failed by the hospital’s senior management, health care organisations, police, prosecutors, local politicians and medical authorities.
It said the interests of patients and relatives had been “subordinated to the reputation of the hospital and the professions involved”.
The Gosport hospital deaths took place around the same time revelations emerged that a British family physician, Harold Shipman, had used lethal heroin injections on his patients.
“Dr. Death” received a life sentence for murdering 15 patients, but a further inquiry later found he had killed as many as 250 people in his care. He later committed suicide in jail.