‘Euthanasia Practised by Nursing Staff’ at Opioid Scandal Hospital, Whistleblower Told Police

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: A nurse tends to recovering patients on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital on March 16, 2010 in Birmingham, England. As the UK gears up for one of the most hotly contested general elections in recent history it is expected that that the …
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A whistleblower nurse told police that “euthanasia” was being practised by medical staff at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, but authorities claimed there was no evidence of an offence.

After the story of the death of 91-year-old Gladys Richards, who died after needlessly being prescribed opioids in 1998, was leaked to the local media, auxiliary nurse Pauline Spilka contacted police with her concerns.

“It appeared to me then and more so now that euthanasia was practised by the nursing staff,” Ms. Spilka told police.

The detective in charge of the investigation sent the complaint to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), complaining that since the media leak, five other people had come forward with similar allegations, reports The Times.

However, barrister David Perry QC – candidate to become the next director of public prosecutions – told the CPS that the “evidence does not reveal the commission of any offence”.

A further two investigations launched in 1999 and 2002 were also closed without further investigation.

On Wednesday, an inquest found that at least 456 patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital died between 1989 and 2000 following the unjustified administration of opioids under the watch of Dr Jane Barton, known as “Dr Opiate”.

Despite the patients not being admitted to the Hampshire hospital for end-of-life care — but often for respite or rehabilitation — they had been administered the very powerful drug intended to ease the pain of dying patients.

The report had found “an institutionalised practice of the shortening of lives through administering opioids without medical justification” and a “disregard for human life”, with the panel finding blame across hospital professionals, medical bodies, the CPS, and the police.

Nurses, hospital managers, and consultants were found to have either failed to challenge the practice or ignored whistleblowers.

Notably, the inquiry found that there was a “pattern of anticipatory prescribing” with nurses who were authorised to administer the powerful painkiller without oversight. Medical staff used the shorthand “make patient comfortable” to indicate administering opioids, resulting in victims dying just days later.

Other nurses at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital blew the whistle as early as 1991, but hospital managers ignored their concerns due to a culture of never questioning doctors’ decisions, according to the report, which added: “The opportunity was lost, deaths resulted.”

The report also found that patients’ families were ignored, with Gillian Mackenzie being was branded a “troublemaker” by police after she contacted them in 1998 with her concerns following the death of her 91-year-old mother Gladys Richards.

Mrs Richards was taken to Gosport War Memorial Hospital to recover from hip surgery but died within days after being administered the opioid painkiller through a syringe driver.

Professor Sir Brian Jarman, head of the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial College London, said it is “likely” that similar practices of shortening patients’ lives are happening in other hospitals, and condemned the culture of denial in the NHS and the way whistleblowers are treated.

“We really need an independent system to look at people who whistleblow,” Prof Jarman said.

“One that is completely independent of the NHS” and which would see whistleblowers “protected, rather than being fired, gagged and blacklisted”.

Responding to Prof Jarman’s comments, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “being a little bit unfair on the NHS”.

Mr Hunt said earlier in the month that he will make it harder to strike off doctors who kill their patients, saying that he wants them to be allowed to “learn from their mistakes” and that “the NHS will support them to learn, rather than seek to blame”.

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