by Saif Al Abri
The actions of a retired hospital GP who has been linked to the deaths of hundreds of patients came under the spotlight this week.
More than 450 patient’s lives were shortened after being given powerful painkillers which were prescribed by Dr Jane Barton, 69, between 1998 and 2000 at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire, a major public inquiry has found. An independent panel said a further 200 patients may have suffered a similar fate as their records were missing. Led by the former bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, the panel reviewed 833 death certificates signed by Barton, and examined more than one million documents.
In 1998, the daughter of Gladys Richard, Gillian McKenzie, raised suspicion to the police about Dr Jane Barton’s prescribing. Gladys Richard died at Gasport War Memorial Hospital after being sent there to recover from a hip operation. Gillian McKenzie was the first relative to approach the police about a death at the hospital. An investigation was launched but dropped in weeks.
Former health minister Norman Lamb has claimed that government officials tried to dodge a public inquiry into Dr Barton. Lamb, who is a Liberal Democrat MP, said he suspected a cover up among officials when they tried to reject an inquiry into hundreds of deaths linked to Dr Barton. Mr. Lamb told BBC Newsnight, “I started to ask questions internally. I wanted to see the Professor Baker report and for two three months it wasn’t forthcoming”.
“We then went away on holiday in the summer of 2013. Late at night one evening, I just happened to switch on my iPad and I saw an email from my private secretary which said they were going to publish the Baker report the next day, and that they would announce there would be no public inquiry,” he added.
The report by Professor Richard Baker of Leicester University found that opiate painkillers had “almost certainly shortened the lives of some patients”” and that a small number of those would have had a chance of being discharged. The Baker report was completed in 2003 but not published until ten years later once all the inquests had been completed.
Lamb said he persuaded ministerial colleagues to launch the enquiry. The findings were published on Wednesday.
In 2010, Dr Barton was found guilty of “serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC) after it concluded that she had prescribed potentially hazardous levels of drugs. Dr Barton was not struck off and she chose to retire after the findings. The Chief executive of the GMC criticized the independent panel, “Our view was the doctor’s name should have been erased from the medical register following the panel’s finding of serious professional misconduct. We will be carefully reviewing the decision before deciding what further action, if any, may be necessary.”
In response to the ruling Dr Barton said, “I am disappointed by the decision of the GMC panel but appreciate that in imposing conditions, they recognised the great difficulties and unreasonable pressure under which I had to work.”
Families of the fallen victims suggest that the mostly elderly patients were given excessive doses of drugs to keep them quite which raised the fear of deliberate euthanisation. Dr Barton’s husband told the Sunday Times in 2002, “Instead of trying to find a new Harold Shipman, it might be more constructive to ask why a part time GP was looking after 48 beds”.
The drug used by Dr Barton was diamorphine, the same drug used by Harold Shipman to murder his estimated 260 victims.
In a statement in reply to MP Norman Lamb, Prime Minister Theresa may said, ‘The events at Gosport Memorial Hospital were tragic, deeply troubling and they brought unimaginable heartache to the families concerned but they are a matter of which we should be concerned across this house and he raises an issue about the way in which public service often, in his terms, closes ranks.’
Families of fallen victims are still fighting for criminal charges and pressure is also growing on police to take action quickly over the deaths of hundreds of patients.
Who is Dr Jane Barton?
Dr Jane Ann Barton graduated from Oxford University as a bachelor of medicine. She became a general practitioner and worked at Forton Medical Centre. She was employed for five sessions a week as a clinical assistant in the department of medicine at Gosport War Memorial hospital.