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Gosport hospital deaths: Independent panel findings due

Families of hundreds of people who died at a scandal-hit hospital hope a report published later could end a decades-long wait for the truth.

The report follows several inquiries into the prescribing of sedatives at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

A fresh review, led by former Bishop of Liverpool James Jones, spoke to more than 100 families and analysed 800 death certificates.

Relatives said they hoped it would end their “harrowing” wait for answers.

Bishop Jones chaired the Hillsborough Independent Panel whose work in examining documents and evidence led to the new inquests into the deaths at the 1989 disaster.

He said the Gosport Independent Panel’s report, which was commissioned in 2014, would first be shared with affected families at Portsmouth Cathedral before it is made public.

What happened to some of those who died?

The panel’s investigation is expected to focus on those who died while under the care of the hospital’s Department of Medicine for Elderly People.

A campaign by a number of families led to inquests into 10 deaths at the hospital which found drugs were a contributory factor in some cases.

Elsie Devine, 88, from Fareham, was admitted to the hospital in 1999 with confusion and kidney problems.

Her notes showed she had been sitting up and chatting happily, but she was given powerful sedatives, lost consciousness and never recovered.

In 2009, an inquest found the drugs she had been given were not appropriate for her condition and had contributed to her death.

Sent to Gosport War Memorial Hospital to recover from a hip operation, Gladys Richards, 91, from Lee-on-Solent, later died after being given opiates and sedatives.

An inquest jury found they “more than insignificantly” contributed to her death.

What has the panel looked at?

The panel would not disclose the total number of deaths discussed in its report, but Bishop Jones previously urged families with concerns over the treatment of their deceased relatives in the 1980s and early 2000s to come forward.

His team had been due to return its findings last December, but the deadline was extended as more families came forward and the volume of material being reviewed increased.

As well as speaking to more than 100 families and analysing about 800 death certificates, the panel also analysed documents from the police, coroners, the NHS and other organisations before writing its report.

The panel also 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.

At its launch four years ago, former Care Minister Norman Lamb said the new inquiry would address what he called “unanswered questions” about the care of those who died.

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What has happened so far?

Concerns over deaths at the hospital were first raised in 1998, with previous investigations focusing on the prescribing of sedatives at the hospital.

A report first compiled by Prof Richard Baker in 2003 and published 10 years later found evidence of an “almost routine use of opiates” since 1998.

This had, he said, “almost certainly shortened the lives of some patients”.

While it was not possible to identify the origin of the practice, he wrote, it could not be ruled out that a small number of those who died would otherwise have been discharged from hospital alive.

Police previously investigated the deaths of 92 patients at the hospital but no prosecutions were brought.

The only person to face disciplinary action was Dr Jane Barton who was found guilty of failings in her care of 12 patients at the hospital between 1996 and 1999.

A General Medical Council hearing in 2010 found Dr Barton had prescribed “potentially hazardous” levels of drugs to patients who later died at the hospital.

She told the council she had to work under “unreasonable pressure” with an “excessive and increasing burden” in caring for patients.

Despite the council’s findings, the Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution on gross negligence manslaughter charges.

What do families want to see happen?

Elsie Devine’s granddaughter, Bridget Reeves, said she had a room in her house “filled with boxes and boxes of paperwork” about her grandmother’s death.

“My mother has campaigned just relentlessly for justice – for the truth – and I don’t think, unless you walk in our shoes, you can understand exactly what it’s been like,” she said.

“It’s been harrowing – I mean it’s nearly 20 years for us.”

Ms Reeves is among the relatives who previously criticised the decision to form an independent panel.

“The frustration is that when we started we wanted a public inquiry but we were told very clearly that the cost would be far too great,” she said.

Gladys Richards’ daughter Gillian McKenzie was the first relative to approach the police about a death at the hospital in 1998.

She said she hoped there would be a debate in parliament following the report findings and there would be “enough pressure” for criminal proceedings to commence.

“There has to be justice and somebody has to be answerable,” she said.

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BBC News – Health