Last updated at 12:59 PM on 29th January 2010
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Families erupted in fury today as a doctor who gave lethal drugs to 12 elderly patients was given the green light to carry on prescribing.
Relatives of the dead pensioners sat gobsmacked as GP Jane Barton escaped being struck off the medical register despite being found guilty of serious professional misconduct.
The outraged sons and daughters stormed out of the General Medical Council (GMC) hearing in Central London in disgust, demanding a public inquiry.
Enlarge Iain Wilson pictured today outside the General Medical Council after the ruling. To his left is Ann Reeves (left) and her daughter Bridget Reeves. Both families lost relatives because of an overdose of painkillers
Dr Jane Barton arriving at an earlier hearing. Today she escaped being struck off the medical register despite being found guilty of serious professional misconduct
In an unprecedented move, even the GMC's chief executive expressed astonishment that his own disciplinary panel had failed to end the doctor's career.
Iain Wilson, whose 74-year-old father Robert Wilson went into hospital with a broken shoulder but died of an overdose of painkillers, yelled at the panel members: 'You should hang your head in shame.'
Another relative shouted: 'You have done nothing at all to protect the public.'
Dr Barton's frail patients had been given cocktails of painkillers six times the recommended dose to 'keep them quiet' and lapsed into drug-induced comas, it was claimed.
She told one patient 'it won't be long now' after giving her a massive dose of painkillers, the GMC heard.
The two wards she ran, at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire, became known as 'the end of the line'.
It has taken the GMC 12 years to decide on the case since questions were first raised about why patients in Dr Barton's care were dying.
At one stage, police examined 92 deaths, although no criminal charges were ever brought. Then an inquest last year into ten of the pensioners' deaths concluded five of them had died after being given excessive doses of morphine.
However, Dr Barton always remained free to practice, subject to certain restrictions on prescribing diamorphine, and has been working at the Forton Medical Centre in Gosport.
The GMC's fitness to practice panel found Dr Barton guilty of 'multiple instances of serious professional misconduct' and said her behaviour was 'inappropriate, potentially hazardous and or not in the best interests' of her patients.
More...Four-month-old baby 'dies of overdose after mother was given wrong prescription'
Yet instead of striking her off, the panel decided to allow her to continue practicing, subject to 11 restrictions including banning her from prescribing opiates by injection for three years. She is allowed to prescibe opiates in other forms, provided she keeps a written 'log'.
Panel chairman Andrew Reid said: 'Dr Barton failed to recognise the limits of her professional competence.'
Elsie Devine, 88, and Robert Wilson, 74, both died from overdoses of painkillers
But he wrote: 'The panel was greatly impressed by the many compelling testimonials which detailed Dr Barton's safe practice over the last ten years and the high regard in which she is held by numerous colleagues and patients.'
He added: 'Preserving Dr Barton's services as a GP is in the public interest.'
However Niall Dickson, the GMC's chief executive, said afterwards: 'We are surprised by the decision to apply conditions in this case.
'Our view was the doctor's name should have been erased from the medical register following the panels finding of serious professional misconduct.
'We will be carefully reviewing the decision before deciding what further action, if any, may be necessary.'
Police launched an attempted murder investigation in 2000 which led to the resignation of Barton from her post, but no charges were ever brought.
However, today the Crown Prosecution Service said it was still thinking about whether charges would be approriate. A spokesman said: 'The CPS are considering any new evidence the police submit to us as a result of the inquests and the GMC hearing.'
The inquest was held more than a decade after concerns were first raised over the deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire
Dr Barton, a GP, was in day-to-day charge of the now defunct Daedalus and Dryad wards between 1996 and 1999. Most patients expected to be rehabilitated and sent home. But the Oxford-trained doctor wrongly prescribed large doses of diamorphine and midizolam to her patients, the GMC decided.
Today relatives gave furious reactions to the decision.
Ann Reeves, whose mother Elsie Devine, 88, died after being given a massive overdose of painkillers, called for criminal charges.
She said: 'Let a judge and jury deal with it now, and let it all be exposed. The NHS has done its best to cover it up. People don't realise, but what goes on in hospitals is absolutely horrific.'
Tom Kark for the GMC had told the hearing: 'None of the patients were appropriately prescribed opiates by Dr Barton. The reality of this case is that the prescription of very large doses of opiates appears to have become a matter of course at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital for patients under Dr Barton’s care.'
Dr Barton, of Gosport, faced 15 charges before the GMC relating to her treatment of 12 patients, record keeping and a failure to assess patients properly before prescribing opiates.
The doctor admitted that the dosage prescribed for 11 of the 12 patients was 'potentially hazardous', the dose range was too wide and that this created a situation where excessive drugs could be administered.
She has also admitted she failed to keep clear, accurate and contemporaneous notes in relation to some or all of her patients and that these omissions were inappropriate and not in the best interests of the patients.
With mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman in mind, police have been quick to investigate complaints about possible rogue doctors.
In Dr Barton's case, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, commissioned a clinical audit to examine death rates at the hospital by Professor Richard Baker, who worked on the Shipman inquiry, though his report has never been made public.
Dr Barton did not attend yesterday's hearing, but said in a statement she was 'disappointed' to be have the conditions imposed.
She said: '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.
'I did the best I could for my patients in the circumstances until finally I had no alternative but to resign.
'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 wellbeing at heart.
'I am hugely grateful to all my medical and nursing colleagues, and to all my patients who have been so supportive of me throughout this eleven year ordeal.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1247000/Dr-Jane-Barton-escapes-struck-prescribing-potentially-hazardous-levels-drugs.html#ixzz0e1y1gLoI
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