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Gosport joins the ranks of scandal hit hospitals

Ely, Mid Staffordshire, Morecambe Bay – to this blacklist of scandal-hit NHS hospitals we can now add Gosport War Memorial.

A four-year independent inquiry found that 456 patients died over a 12-year period after being given unsafe painkillers without medical justification.

The panel concluded another 200 patients “probably” had their lives shortened by the prescribing and administration of opioids that had become the norm at the Hampshire hospital.

Its 370-page report is grim reading, and it details failings by hospital staff, local NHS organisations, regulators, the police, the coroner’s service, and standards authorities.

As is always the case with patient safety scandals, the NHS’s initial reaction to families’ concerns was to “close ranks”, reflected Norman Lamb MP, who set up the inquiry during his time as health minister.

While the “institutionalised practice of shortening patients’ lives” was presided over by now-retired GP Jane Barton – both the consultant and nursing workforce were criticised for not challenging the culture.

It remains to be seen what action the government will take, but calls for a fresh police investigation – carried out by a different constabulary than Hampshire Police – look hard to turn down.

Families of patients who died have waited 20 years for answers, but as one campaigner said when the report was published this morning: “Today is only the beginning”.

Tightening the screws

Despite making savings of more than £500m in agency spending, NHS Improvement is expecting even more from trusts.

The regulator has told trusts to accelerate the reduction in the amount paid per agency shift and has said it will work intensively with eight of the highest spending trusts to manage their agency staff spending.

The new rules have been spelled out in a letter sent to chief executives, financial directors and nursing and medical directors, instructing trusts to apply “robust internal controls” on temporary staff spending.

Some of the new rules will start with immediate effect, such as trusts needing to formally report all shifts signed off by chief executives above £100 per hour every week from July.

NHS Providers has expressed concern and said it will be difficult to tighten the screws even further. One chief executive even warned it could be undeliverable in practice.

Some might hope that the scrapping of the tier two visa cap could ease workforce shortages, therefore reducing the need for temporary staff, but in the short term this new savings drive will certainly be a challenge for trusts.