Theresa May has described events at Gosport War Memorial Hospital as “deeply troubling” and apologised to families over the time it took to get answers from the NHS.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, added his own apology to relatives for the “truly shocking” deaths of their loved ones during his statement to the commons about the findings of the Gosport hospital inquiry.
The government panel, which released its findings on Wednesday morning, found that 456 patients died at the hospital between 1989 to 2000 after being administered opioids without medical justification. Another 200 more patients may also have had their lives shortened, when taking into account missing medical records.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, May told MPs: “The events at Gosport Memorial Hospital were tragic, they are deeply troubling and they brought unimaginable heartache to the families concerned.
“But they are a matter of which we should be concerned across this house.”
She said that politicians needed to address the issue of public sector bodies “closing ranks”, adding: “I’m sorry that it took so long for the families to get the answers from the NHS.”
Hunt later told MPs there had been “a catalogue of failings” and that he knew nothing he said today would “lessen the anguish and pain” felt by the families of those affected.
He said the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would examine material in the Gosport Independent Panel’s report to consider their next steps and “whether criminal charges should now be brought”.
He said that “any further action by the relevant criminal justice and health authorities must be thorough, transparent and independent”, and suggested that Hampshire Constabulary should consider whether another force should be brought in.
There were still many unanswered questions, he said, such as why the Baker report into what happened, which was carried out in 2003, was not published for another 10 years, and whether it was there was a desire to blame events on one rogue doctor instead of acknowledging it was an institutional failure.
He also praised the former bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who led the panel, the whistleblowers who came forward and the families for pursuing justice.
He added that he intends to meet as many of the families as he can before the government publish its official response later in the year.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the deaths at Gosport hospital represented “a shameful episode in our nation’s recent history”.
Ashworth told MPs that it was “unforgivable” that patients expecting rehabilitation were “put on a terminal care pathway”.
He added: “Why did families who had lost loved ones have to take on such a burden, have to take on such a toll, to demand answers?
“It’s clear that the concerns of families were too often, too readily dismissed, treated as irritants. It’s shameful, no family should be put through that.”
In response to the panel’s findings, A CPS spokesman said: “We will consider the content of the report and will take any appropriate steps as required.”
Caroline Dinenage, the MP for Gosport, told the BBC that the report was “utterly chilling” and “almost heartbreaking”.
“I don’t think any of us realised the scale of this,” she said. “There are potentially over 450 lives shortened as a result of this. The report talks about a culture of shortening lives, it talks about a disregard for human life. It talks about families who thought their loved ones were there for respite and rehabilitation only to find that they were on a terminal care pathway.
“It is just almost unimaginable, this report and what it says. The government needs to look at this as a matter of extreme urgency. This is too big to ignore. This is over 450 lives shortened as a result of care.”
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said the report was welcomed and they would be studying it carefully.
He said: “Our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their loved ones following simply unacceptable treatment at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. Patients and their families were clearly let down by the system, and that is not good enough.”
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This report makes for very sober reading for everybody involved in the care of patients. Although there can be no meaningful recompense for the affected patients and their families, today’s report will offer some comfort to those still grieving.
“Nursing as a profession must work hard to seek out lessons from Gosport and we expect that approach to be shared by regulators and the health and care system.”
A helpline has been set up for those who think one of their relatives might have been been affected. It is on the Gosport Independent Panel website.