Govt Gosport Response: Support for Whistleblowers

Tim Locke

November 21, 2018

Lessons will be learned from the 465 'unjustified opioid deaths' at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire, the Government has promised.

A report from the Gosport Independent Panel published in June reached a number of conclusions, including that there was a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients.

Today, nearly 5 months later, the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock gave a statement to the Commons as the official response was published online.

'Unambiguous Apology'

Mr Hancock said: "I want to reiterate the profound and unambiguous apology on behalf of the government and the NHS for the hurt and the anguish that families who lost loved ones have endured.

"It is not just the case that these were preventable deaths, but deaths directly caused by the actions of others."

He quotes from the report saying patients and relatives, "were consistently let down by those in authority, both individuals and institutions. These included the senior management of the hospital, healthcare organisations, Hampshire Constabulary, local politicians, the coronial system, the Crown Prosecution Service, the General Medical Council, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council."

He said the deaths occurred despite more than 100 families raising concerns over more than 2 decades.

'A Warning and a Challenge'

There were three separate police investigations resulting in no prosecutions. A different police force has now taken over the investigation, he said, because of Hampshire Police's failings.

He said a lot had improved in the NHS since the Gosport report but said, "we can't afford to be complacent. What happened at Gosport is both a warning and a challenge."

He pointed to hospital inspections now under the Care Quality Commission (CQC) as an independent body.

There's the National Guardians Office, he said, "to ensure staff concerns are heard and addressed. Every NHS Trust in England now have someone in place the whistleblowers can speak to in confidence, and without fear of being penalised."

He also cited NHS Improvement, "to respond to failings and put things right. And the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch now investigates safety breaches and uses them to learn lessons and spread best practice throughout the NHS."

But Mr Hancock said more needed to be done: "We will bring forward new legislation which will compel NHS Trusts to report annually on how concerns raised by staff have been addressed."

Other government departments are being consulted on strengthening protection for NHS whistleblowers, he said, including updating the law.

He said changes had already been made around use of controlled drugs, and syringe drivers mentioned in the report are no longer in use in the NHS.

Investigating Deaths

From April next year medical examiners will be introduced across England to ensure every death is scrutinised by either a coroner or a medical examiner.

"A medical examiner is someone bereaved families can talk to about their concerns, to ensure investigations take place where necessary, to help detect and to deter criminal activity, and to promote good practice."

He said the new system will be overseen by a new independent National Medical Examiner.

He promised, "greater transparency, stricter control of drugs, and a full and thorough investigation of every hospital death."

Mr Hancock said: "Today marks an important moment. Lessons have been learned, will be learned, and must be applied.

"The voices of the vulnerable will be heard. Those with the courage to speak up will be celebrated. Leaders must change the culture to learn from errors. And we must redouble our resolve to create a health service that will be a fitting testament to the Gosport patients and their families."


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