Published: 19/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5823 Page 7

The deaths of 13 elderly patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital are to be investigated by one of the experts involved in the Dr Harold Shipman case.

Chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson last week called in Professor Richard Baker, of the clinical governance research and development unit at Leicester University, to carry out a clinical audit at the hospital.

Professor Baker analysed death rates at Shipman's practice in Hyde, Greater Manchester. Dr Shipman is now serving a life sentence for the murder of 15 patients with an inquiry blaming him for 200 more deaths.

The Gosport move comes two months after Hampshire police and the Commission for Health Improvement collaborated on an investigation into the use of prescription painkillers at the hospital. It found that between 1997 and 2000, patients at Gosport had been regularly over-prescribed painkillers.

The report said: 'Though CHI is unable to determine whether these levels of prescribing contributed to the deaths of any patients, it is clear that had adequate checking mechanisms existed in the trust, this level of prescribing would have been questioned.'

The report found there had been a failure of management at the hospital, including a lack of local prescribing guidelines, no routine review of pharmacy data to pick up over-prescribing, and no supervision and appraisal system to pick up poor prescribing practice.

However, by the time of the report's publication, this had been rectified.

A separate police investigation found no evidence that patients had been harmed deliberately but concerns about standards were strong enough to call in CHI.

Sir Liam said: 'Even though both previous investigations found no grounds for serious concern, neither was in a position to establish whether trends and patterns of death were out of line with what would be expected.

'It was the wish to ensure that all necessary investigation was carried out that led to the decision to carry out this further investigation.'

Portsmouth Healthcare trust ceased to exist in April 2002, with management of the hospital taken over by Fareham and Gosport primary care trust.

A joint statement from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight health authority and Fareham and Gosport PCT welcomed the audit.

'We hope that the outcome will provide definitive answers that relatives, NHS staff and the people of Gosport are looking for, ' the statement said.

CHI is now working with police in England and Wales to establish how the two can share information. As a direct result of the collaboration on the Gosport investigation, talks may lead to a memorandum of understanding covering all English and Welsh police forces.