Prof accuses hospital of ‘culture of euthanasia’

A key report has accused a Hampshire hospital of a “culture of involuntary euthanasia on the wards” after questions were raised over the deaths of several patients.

But families of patients who died at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital ten years ago were furious after it emerged the report was omitted during an inquest.

They accused the Government and police of a cover-up and called for a public inquiry.

In his report Prof Gary Ford, a professor of pharmacology at Newcastle University, told the Hampshire Constabulary there may have been a “culture of involuntary euthanasia on the wards” and accused staff of “reckless” and “poor practice”.

He was one of many experts consulted when detectives opened an investigation into families’ claims that patients had died after staff had over-prescribed sedatives such as diamorphine.

However, the coroner refused to include the report in the evidence despite calls from the families’ lawyers.

One of the deaths Prof Ford looked into was that of Brian Cunningham, who died aged 79.

Prof Ford’s report said Mr Cunningham was admitted with a serious bed sore and also suffered from dementia, Parkinson’s disease, depression and had difficulty walking.

His stepson, Charles Farthing, said he was ill but not dying.

“He was weak and frail I would say, yes, but he was 100 per cent there mentally. He was still very lucid and a reasonable sort of chap.

“There was certainly no sign of him coming to the end of his life when I last saw him.”

Prof Ford said in his report, the subsequent increases in diamorphine doses by staff were likely to lead to premature death.

He said although Mr Cunningham was admitted for treatment to his bed sores “ward staff appear to have considered he was dying and admitted for terminal care”.

Professor Ford also looked into the death of 74-year-old Robert Wilson, who had liver problems due to a lengthy drink problem, and was admitted in 1998 after suffering from a broken arm.

Prof Ford’s report said: “Mr Wilson was admitted for rehabilitation not terminal care.

“Following treatment Mr Wilson was noted to have had a rapid deterioration.”

In his conclusion he said: “Routine use of opiate and sedative drug infusions without clear indications for their use would raise concerns that a culture of involuntary euthanasia existed on the ward.”

Yesterday an inquest ruled that excessive doses of morphine and sedatives contributed to the suspicious deaths of five of the patients at a Hampshire hospital between 1996 and 1999.

A senior doctor, Dr Jane Barton, in charge of the ward known as the ‘end of the line’ where almost 100 patients died at the time, faces a hearing with the General Medical Council later this year.

In a statement after the inquest Dr Barton said: “I can say though that I have always acted with care, concern and compassion towards my patients.”

Despite concerns raised at the time by the families of 92 patients who died, the police only handed ten files over to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

In October 2007, the CPS ruled there was not enough evidence to charge anyone but last year the justice secretary Jack Straw gave permission for an inquest into those ten deaths.

The jury at the inquest found the administration of medication “contributed more than minimally” to five of these deaths.