Sputnik: Can you give us a very basic description of what is referred to as the Gosport scandal?
Stephanie Prior: What happened is during the 1990s hundreds of patients died at that hospital after they were unnecessarily given clinically unjustified doses of potentially dangerous medications such as opioids. Most of these patients were admitted to that hospital because they were for respite care or rehabilitation or had conditions that didn’t really require them to have such large dose of diamorphine. But for some reason, a doctor at the hospital prescribed this medication, which went on to shorten their lives, and I think that approximately 456 patients that we know about, potentially another 200 who were given this medication and their life was shortened – so, potentially 656 patients.
Sputnik: I know that in the US right now the entire country is facing a severe opioid epidemic. Can you tell us in what way were their lives cut short? Was this because people developed dependence on opioids or was this like an overdose scenario?
Stephanie Prior: No, this was an overdose scenario. Most of these patients were elderly, so they were sort of over the age of 60-70-80 and they were given six times the recommended dosage of opiates when they shouldn’t actually have been prescribed the medication in the first place. So, obviously their system started to shut down, the breathing started to shut down and effectively their lives were shortened very quickly within two or three days of being given the medication.
Sputnik: How long was this going on for?
Stephanie Prior: The alarm bells was first raised, I believe, in 1988 and around about 1990 when nurses started to draw this to the attention of senior managers that a doctor was prescribing this medication. And relatives were starting to complain as well, because this didn’t seem to be normal that their relative was admitted to hospital for just rehabilitation or respite care and then obviously a couple of days later, had died, which was out of the norm, actually. But alarm bells were raised at a very early stage.
Sputnik: Does this seem to be some kind of criminal negligence or was it deliberate? Was this like deliberate poisoning or euthanasia or something that somebody took upon themselves? What exactly was the motive behind this?
Stephanie Prior: We don’t know because the doctor confirmed to prescribe this medication is noted to be a very caring GP and said that she was acting in the best interest of her patients. But breaching protocol and prescribing medication at such a large dosage; personally, I don’t think that’s justifiable. I don’t know what the motive was behind it, but also senior members of staff were aware that she was doing this, this was the protocol within the hospital. And it was only the nurses who were speaking up about it and trying to get some answers and get this looked at and investigated. So, it is quite unusual, because quite a lot of people knew that this was a practice at the hospital.
Sputnik: This is a controlled substance; I would imagine that you’d have to do a lot of paperwork in order to justify this, and there should have been some kind of serious tracking of this drug and how it was given and who it was given to. Why was that not the case, if you’re saying this was the hospital’s protocol?
Stephanie Prior: This is what the suggestion is. With a controlled substance like an opiate diamorphine the practice at that time should have been that two qualified members of staff must be together when they’re preparing the drug and the drug was given by a syringe driver, which meant that it was being delivered to the patient over a period of time at a specific dose. So it wasn’t just an injection, it was actually a dose of medication that was being given over a period of time it could be titrated by a machine. Two members of staff must be available to set this up and obviously it must be prescribed by a doctor, a pharmacist should have been aware that there was excessive prescription of this medication; it beggars belief how it was allowed to go on for so long.
Sputnik: There are 456, I believe, people who had their lives shortened or died. From what you’re describing, this would have happened quite quickly. Wouldn’t there be a hospital investigation into the cause of death?
Stephanie Prior: I think most of the death certificates were saying that these people had died of bronchial pneumonia or the breathing problem at the end of life. I think there should have been an investigation, there was a large number of people dying within a certain period of time and local funeral directors must have seen an increase in the number of people that they were dealing with over a period of time. If there was an inquest held, then there must have been more inquests into deaths at this particular hospital. It’s a bit of a mystery actually as to why nothing was done sooner.
Sputnik: Do you have the feeling that there might have been some kind of collusion between people?
Stephanie Prior: That’s the big question, because the doctor that was prescribing the medication was a clinical assistant. So she wasn’t a consultant at the hospital but there were other doctors who were above her and managers and patient care managers in particular. They all knew that this was going on and did nothing to stop or intervene because quite clearly, the prescription of this medication was six times the dose of what it should be and some of these patients shouldn’t have had the medication in the first place. There was no need for it, they weren’t in pain, they weren’t having palliative treatment, they weren’t dying. They may not have been perfectly fit but they weren’t having morphine for any reason other than this doctor was prescribing it.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.