New probe into hospital deaths

A formal review has been launched into a number of suspicious deaths at a hospital.

Concerns were first raised about care at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in 1998
Concerns were first raised about care at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in 1998

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb announced that an inquiry is to be held into the deaths of a number of elderly patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire between 1988 and 2000.

The investigation will be led by former bishop of Liverpool the Rt Rev James Jones, who previously chaired the Hillsborough Independent Panel into the disaster.

Mr Jones has already begun work with the affected families.

The investigation, which is expected to take around two years, will review the evidence held by a number of organisations, Mr Lamb said.

The terms of reference for the review will be published in the autumn, he said.

A separate review into the deaths of patients at the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust hospital between 1988 and 2000 was published last year - 10 years after it was completed.

The report, led by Professor Richard Baker of Leicester University, could not be published in full before then because of police investigations and inquests being held.

Prof Baker found that the "almost routine use of opiates" for elderly patients "almost certainly had shortened the lives of some patients" and suggested that a number could have eventually gone on to make full recoveries.

Concerns were first raised about care at the hospital in 1998, with Prof Baker's review noting that the practice of making patients "comfortable" using opiates was used as early as 1988.

In a written ministerial statement issued today, Mr Lamb said that following the report families continued to raise concerns about the care of the relatives and the subsequent investigations into the deaths.

He said that to try to address the concerns he had set up the independent panel to review the documentary evidence held across a range of organisations.

Mr Lamb said: "The events at Gosport War Memorial hospital have caused immense distress to the families of the patients who died.

"I was deeply concerned by the findings of the Baker report, and I am confident that the appointment of Bishop James Jones to chair this independent process will help answer the many questions of the families affected by these shocking events."

Mr Jones said: "I am aware of the heavy responsibility of accepting the invitation to chair the Gosport Independent Panel.

"My first priority will be to consult with the families so that their views are taken into account when framing the terms of reference. My next task will be to assemble a panel and secretariat with the appropriate skills.

"I have already met with some of the families and will ensure that the panel has regular contact throughout its duration.

"I believe the experience of chairing the Hillsborough Independent Panel will help to equip me in chairing the Gosport Independent Panel.

"Independence and integrity will be the hallmarks of the panel's work."

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which came to being in 2011, said it was not running the hospital at the period under review.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: "For the families involved, this has been a long and hard journey. I am pleased that the Government has expressed its commitment to addressing their ongoing concerns and finding out what really happened at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

"I have always called for openness and transparency - the families deserve nothing less. The inquiry, selected by the families as their preferred course of action, is an important first step in finally bringing closure to this difficult case."

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: "For the families involved, this has been a long and hard journey.

"I am pleased that the Government has expressed its commitment to addressing their ongoing concerns and finding out what really happened at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

"I have always called for openness and transparency - the families deserve nothing less. The inquiry, selected by the families as their preferred course of action, is an important first step in finally bringing closure to this difficult case."