A retired GP stands accused of being responsible for possibly contributing to hundreds of patients’ early deaths.
A government panel, led by the former bishop of Liverpool James Jones, has reviewed 833 death certificates signed by Dr Jane Barton and revealed its findings to relatives at Portsmouth Cathedral on Wednesday.
It found an “institutionalised regime” of prescribing and administering opioids without medical justification shortened the lives of at least 450 people and possibly 200 more at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
The government panel, led by the former bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, has examined more than one million documents.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Theresa May were both expected to refer to the report in parliament later.
The investigation has focused on “unanswered questions” from earlier probes, which did not lead to any prosecutions.
The review investigated the “brusque and indifferent” 69-year-old’s prescription of the powerful painkiller diamorphine, and whether it resulted in or contributed to shortening lives, including those of patients who could have recovered.
There is no suggestion Barton intentionally took lives. She voluntarily stood down as a registered doctor in 2010 and no longer practices medicine.
Who is Dr Jane Barton?
Jane Ann Barton graduated from Oxford University in 1972 as a Bachelor of Medicine. She worked at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire between 1988 and 2000.
While at the hospital, Barton was, according to her husband, overworked.
Tim Barton told The Sunday Times in 2002: “Instead of trying to find a new Harold Shipman, it might be more constructive to ask why a part-time GP was looking after 48 beds.
“No one has seen any of the letters she sent saying, ‘You cannot keep sending me this number of patients, I cannot cope with this number’.”
Barton left the hospital to become a family GP in Gosport.
What is she accused of?
While working at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Barton prescribed “potentially hazardous” levels of drugs to elderly patients, a 2010 General Medical Council (GMC) panel found.
It heard evidence of Barton’s “brusque, unfriendly and indifferent” manner, and her failure to recognise the limits of her professional capabilities.
High numbers of deaths were recorded at the hospital, amid fears that there may have been a “culture of involuntary euthanasia”.
An inquest into ten deaths at the hospital in 2009 found the administration of medication “contributed more than minimally” to five of the deaths – with three of those not receiving “appropriate” medication for their symptoms. It found the skills of nursing and non-consultant medical staff “particularly Dr Barton, were not adequate”.
A 2010 GMC probe found Barton guilty of serious professional misconduct, and of putting her patients at risk of an early death - but the panel did not remove her right to practice medicine.
Unusually, the panel’s decision was itself criticised by the then chief of the GMC for being too lenient.
Barton said in a statement after that ruling: “I am disappointed by the decision of the GMC panel.
“Anyone following this case carefully will know that I was faced with an excessive and increasing burden in trying to care for patients at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
“None of the nurses who gave evidence were critical of my care of the patients in this inquiry.
“The consultants who had overall responsibility for the patients never expressed concern about my treatment and working practices.
“Throughout my career I have tried to do my very best for all my patients and have had only their interests and well-being at heart.”
Barton has retired as a GP and other medical staff have been investigated over the situation at the hospital - including a senior nurse.
The retiree, who is a keen birdwatcher, has a large contingent of supporters in the local community.
Barton has told reporters she will not comment until the report is published.