The report recently released by the Gosport Independent Panel has revealed that 456 patients died after being given powerful painkillers inappropriately at Gosport War Memorial Hospital and that another 200 patients whose notes had gone missing were most probably also affected. The report states that failings first raised by staff in 1991 were ignored, as were the concerns raised by families about the administration of opioids at the hospital. The panel found that, over a 12-year period, Dr Jane Barton was “responsible for the practice of prescribing which prevailed on the wards” and there had been a “disregard for human life” at the hospital.
This is the latest in a number of large scale NHS scandals which have included: the deaths of babies at Bristol Royal Infirmary, the mass killings of Harold Shipman, the failings of the Morecombe Bay maternity services and the avoidable suffering of patients at Stafford Hospital. They all demonstrated serious shortcomings in the provision of care that led to avoidable consequences, many including death.
Jeremy Hunt has apologised to the families affected by the Gosport deaths and has commented: "If you are a doctor or a nurse and you see something going wrong - even if you are perhaps responsible for a mistake yourself - the most important thing, the thing that families want if they are bereaved or if they have a tragedy, is to know that the NHS isn't going to make that mistake again."
"We make it much too hard for doctors and nurses to do that - they are worried that there will be litigation, they will go up in front of the GMC or NMC, the reputation of their unit - in some places they are worried they might get fired, so we do have to tackle that blame culture and turn that into a learning culture."
This is a worrying statement which suggests there might be an ongoing problem and those who work in the NHS have still not embraced an attitude of openness when things go wrong. Will we see more scandals come to light before the lessons are finally learnt? It is understandable that the public have very little confidence in a system that behaves in this way and if it is a wider generic issue, then urgent steps need to be undertaken to investigate further.
Those who pursue clinical negligence claims are often criticised for increasing the strain on the finances of the NHS. Claimant lawyers are unfairly blamed for the costs involved in pursuing these cases. However, as long we continue to learn of these scandals surely it is only right and proper that those responsible are held to account and families are compensated. Innocent victims and their families are entitled to see justice done. Especially so where completely avoidable harm and death was the result. It is, yet again, another dark day for the NHS.
If you would like more information or any advice, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Medical Negligence Team.
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