June 20 (UPI) -- More than 450 patients at a British hospital died after they were given dangerously high doses of medication there over a period of years, an independent panel found.
Investigators said there was a disregard for human life at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, about 60 miles southwest of London. The panel also said there was a culture of shortening patients' lives by prescribing hazardous doses of medication without proper justification in the 1990s.
"Whereas a large number of patients and their relatives understood that their admission to the hospital was for either rehabilitation or respite care, they were, in effect, put on a terminal care pathway," Right Reverend James Jones, chair of the panel, wrote in the report.
Another 200 patients may also have been similarly affected by the hospital's drug policy, as their clinical records were never found.
Nurses at the hospital, according to the report, raised concerns over the use of diamorphine -- the medical name for heroin -- being used on patients who were not in pain as early as 1998.
Nurses claimed the drug was being prescribed "without due consideration being given to the use of milder sedatives first."
"You do not need a sledgehammer to crack a walnut," one nurse is quoted as saying.
The hospital's nurses were concerned about the potential repercussions they would face if they raised their concerns. In 1991, a staff meeting was finally held that was attended by a convener from the Royal College of Nursing.
The nurses, however, were warned not to take their concerns further. They had, the report said, given the hospital the opportunity to rectify the over-prescribing.
"Handing over a loved one to a hospital, to doctors and nurses, is an act of trust and you take for granted that they will always do that which is best for the one you love," Jones said in the report. "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.'"
Dr. Jane Barton, who oversaw prescriptions, is the only person from the hospital to face disciplinary action -- she was found guilty of failing to care for 12 patients between 1996 and 1999. Barton was not prosecuted and chose to retire after the findings.
British Prime Minister Theresa May described Wednesday's findings as "deeply troubling," while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told lawmakers police and the Crown Prosecution Service would examine material in the report to consider their next steps and "whether criminal charges" should be brought.