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Gosport hospital deaths: Whistleblowers promised support

Changes in how NHS whistleblowers are treated are to be introduced in response to the patient deaths scandal at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, the health secretary has promised.

More than 450 patients died between 1987 and 2001 after being prescribed dangerous doses of painkilling drugs.

Matt Hancock said he would “strengthen protection” for staff whistleblowers.

In a Commons statement, he said there had been a “systematic failure to respond to terrible behaviour”.

The scandal at Gosport was detailed in a report published in June by an independent panel of inquiry.

The report found 456 lives were shortened between the late 1980s and 2000 as a result of the dangerous over-prescribing of opiates.

Giving the government’s formal response, Mr Hancock said: “I reiterate a profound and unambiguous apology for the hurt and anguish of the families.”

He outlined proposals for “tough new measures to ensure that lessons are learnt from the serious failings”.

Under the plans, every NHS Trust in England will be required to report annually on how concerns raised by staff and patients have been addressed.

Medical examiners are to be introduced to scrutinise all non-coronial deaths. He also announced a review of the controlled drugs regime aimed at detecting inappropriate prescribing of opiates.

Mr Hancock said: “The changes we have made since Gosport mean staff can speak up with more confidence, failings are identified earlier and responded to quicker.

“The reforms we plan to make will mean greater transparency, stricter control of drugs, and a full and thorough investigation of every hospital death.

“Taken together, it means the warning signs about untypical patterns of death are more likely to be seen at the time and not 25 years later.”

‘Gagging clauses’

Previous health secretary Jeremy Hunt introduced a nationwide pilot Whistleblowers Support Scheme in 2017 following recommendations from a public inquiry into deaths at Stafford Hospital.

In 2015, the government introduced plans to appoint guardians to support staff who wanted to speak up about concerns over patient safety.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth welcomed the latest statement and praised the Gosport victims’ families who he said had “shown immense coverage”.

He questioned why “gagging clauses” are still being used and said a climate-change is needed in the NHS so staff feel they can speak out without fearing being penalised.

Mr Hancock replied: “The culture change comes down to noting errors when they happen and ensuring we learn from them and don’t try and cover them up.”

He says gagging clauses have been unacceptable in the NHS since 2013 “and I will do what it takes to stamp them out”.

The report into the Gosport deaths found there was a “disregard for human life” of a large number of patients from 1989 to 2000.

It said taking into account missing records, a further 200 patients may have also had their lives shortened.

So far the only person to face disciplinary action has been Dr Jane Barton who was found guilty of failings in her care of 12 patients at Gosport between 1996 and 1999.

But no prosecutions were brought and she was not struck off the medical register, choosing to retire after the findings.

A statement read out on behalf of Dr Barton following the report’s publication said she was a “doctor doing the best for her patients” while working in a “very inadequately resourced part of the health service”.

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BBC News – Health