A British doctor is making headlines once again, after a report released Wednesday (June 20) concluded that her policy of over-prescribing a powerful pain medication led to hundreds of patient deaths.
Jane Barton, who is now retired, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in 2010 by the General Medical Council (GMC) for her “excessive, inappropriate and potentially hazardous” prescribing of medication at Gosport War Memorial Hospital on the south coast of England, but was allowed to continue practicing medicine with some limitations.
Although Barton retired the same year, families of the victims, outraged by the decision, have since fought for Barton to be held accountable for her alleged actions.
On Wednesday, the Gosport Independent Panel released findings of a four-year investigation. While the Guardian states that “there is no suggestion that Barton intentionally took lives,” her “brusque and indifferent” prescribing of diamorphine (synthetic heroin) led to the deaths of at least 456 patients between 1989-2000, and potentially shortening the lives of another 200 patients.
The report determined that “there was a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients,” and that the opioid-prescribing policy under Barton’s direction was “without medical justification.”
“It represents a major crisis when you begin to doubt that the treatment they are being given is in their best interests,” said Rev. James Jones, chair of the independent panel. “It further shatters your confidence when you summon up the courage to complain and then sense that you are being treated as some sort of ‘troublemaker.’”
On the day of the report’s release, British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologized for the deaths “on behalf of the government and the (National Health Service).”
The panel’s report mentions Harold Shipman, Britain’s worst serial killer, “in order to understand the context of events” in Barton’s case.
According to CNN, Shipman was found to have killed 215 of his patients over a 23-year period. According to a review led by High Court Judge Dame Janet Smith, Shipman also administered excessive doses of diamorphine to his patients from 1975 to 1998. He was ultimately sentenced to 15 terms of life imprisonment, according to the latest report. He ultimately died by suicide in his prison cell in 2004.
Still, Janet Barton maintains that she never meant to kill, and that her harmful prescribing was the result of the “excessive and increasing burden” of trying to care for too many patients.
“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 said in 2010.
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