Britain's health authorities are considering whether to bring criminal charges against staff at a hospital in southern England, after a report revealed that hundreds of patients died prematurely having been given powerful painkillers for no medical reason.
An independent medical panel found that Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire had an institutionalized regime of prescribing and administering dangerous doses of opioids that were not clinically justified.
As a result, between 1989 and 2000, 456 people had their lives shortened, and a further 200 were "probably similarly affected but whose clinical notes were not found."
Medication not needed
Patient records showed that there was "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," said James Jones, the chair of the inquiry.
"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 said.
The report said that patients and relatives were "powerless in their relationship with hospital staff," and that warnings from nurses had been ignored.
The three-year investigation, that relatives of those who died spent years campaigning for, examined more than 140,000 patient records.
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 practicing 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 organizations, 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 that he had killed as many as 250 people in his care. He later committed suicide in jail.
mm/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters)