Prescribed painkillers shortened 456 lives

Medical negligence may have resulted in more than 450 patient deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, a recent report has found.

The report has highlighted how more than 450 patients have died from being prescribed and administered painkillers inappropriately. It is thought that an additional 200 may have also been given incorrect painkillers, resulting in their deaths although missing records mean this is unknown. The shocking findings are likely to result in the pursuit of multiple hospital negligence claims against Gosport War Memorial Hospital for the suffering that the families and loved ones have incurred as a result.

Over a twelve-year period from 1989 through to 2000 hundreds of elderly patients were given dangerous levels of opioids when they were not necessarily required. In 1991 a nurse at the hospital raised an alarm regarding dangerous levels of diamorphine – an incredibly powerful drug which is similar to heroin, being given to patients who were not in pain, or whose pain did not warrant such strong medication. In these instances, the drugs were administered to patients through a syringe-driver which pumped out doses that were not adjusted to each patient’s needs. As a result, patients were exposed to potentially fatal measures of the drug.

The report highlights how patients were given anticipatory prescribing, which ensures that patients are given pain relief when they need it. However, in Gosport War Memorial Hospital this was carried out in such a broad range with no specified trigger for the start or end of it which meant patients were often given drugs that were not needed. The report shows that in the 456 cases that resulted in deaths there was no evidence the use of opioids was at all justified.

In particular, the report highlights that 70% of the initial group that were investigated were not admitted for terminal care and therefore in the majority of cases their deaths were unexpected.

Given the misadministration of medication on such a large scale it is highly likely that those affected may pursue a wrong medication claim or wrong prescription claim as part of a larger medical negligence claim.

In addition the report highlights how on various occasions families and loved ones questioned the use of medication but their claims were dismissed and ignored by medical professionals.

The report states:

“There was an institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering ‘dangerous doses’ of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified, with patients and relatives powerless in their relationship with professional staff.”

The latest findings of the report are worrying to hear and no doubt have resulted in significant stress for families and loved ones who have been impacted by this scandal. Such is the scale of the issue; the health secretary Jeremy Hunt has personally apologised for the pain and anguish that the report is likely to have brought and the 20 years of pain and anguish the families have faced as a result.

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