Intended for healthcare professionals


Gosport: will justice ever be served?

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 03 July 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k2901
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}

The report into deaths at the community hospital reveals a catalogue of errors both inside and outside the NHS, finds Nigel Hawkes

Those who fear that Britain’s institutions may no longer be up to the job will only have their fears enforced if they read the independent report into Gosport War Memorial Hospital. Though the NHS is naturally the main focus of the panel led by former bishop James Jones, the report also exposes the grave failings of the police, the civil service, the General Medical Council, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the local MP—not to mention the Nursing and Midwifery Council. It is deeply dispiriting.

Early in 1991 a group of nurses at the hospital voiced concerns about the routine use of powerful opioid drugs in elderly patients. Many were dying as a result. The nurses were right, but it has taken more than 27 years for their vindication. Even today, no person or institution has faced criminal charges for a clinical practice that shortened the lives of at least 456 patients, according to the panel. Records are incomplete, but it is likely that another 200 can be added to this total.

How can so many people be shuffled off without alarm bells ringing? And how can it have taken so long for an NHS committed to care quality and patients’ rights to settle the account?

The panel has taken no new evidence and held no hearings, but by accumulating and interrogating a massive archive of material from many sources it succeeds in shedding new light on these and other questions.

Dismissive attitudes and self interest

Firstly, why so long? There are two reasons. For a decade, the concerns of a few nurses and bereaved relations were fobbed off by belittling them in classic, old style NHS fashion. The nurses were worn down into …

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