Gosport scandal: ‘my mum had to leave her job after speaking up about opioids’

Sylvia Giffin was among the Gosport War Memorial Hospital nurses who tried to act on concerns 
Penny Wilson

Sylvia Giffin was among the Gosport War Memorial Hospital nurses who tried to act on concerns 

Penny Wilson Picture: Mirrorpix

A nurse who tried to expose the Gosport War Memorial Hospital scandal was forced out of her job, her daughter claims.

Nurse Sylvia Giffin, who died in 2003, was among those who first raised concerns about over prescription of opioids at the Hampshire hospital almost 30 years ago.

A report published this week revealed the fears of nursing staff were silenced by management, ahead of further deaths on the wards.

More than 450 people’s lives were shortened, while another 200 were 'probably' given opioids between 1989 and 2000 without medical justification, the inquiry found.

'Mum felt forced out'

Ms Giffin's daughter Penny Wilson said her mother developed depression after being bullied. She told the Daily Mirror: ‘After my mum spoke up, they were at her for every single thing. It made her very unwell. They forced her out but tried to blame it on ill health.’

The report reveals that early in 1991, Ms Giffin's colleague Anita Tubbritt rang Keith Murray, the local RCN branch convener, to express concern about the use of diamorphine and syringe drivers. Mr Murray has since died.

Mr Murray attended a meeting at Ms Giffin's home with five or six other nurses.

Nurses 'silenced' following staff meeting

A staff meeting was held in July and 10 nurses attended, raising concerns about diamorphine and that ‘patients' deaths are sometimes hastened’. Another meeting was held in December for all concerned staff – but the inquiry found it ‘had the effect of silencing the nurses' concerns’.

The report stated: 'In so doing, the nurses involved, supported by their RCN branch convener, gave the hospital the opportunity to rectify the practice. The opportunity was lost, deaths resulted and, 22 years later, it became necessary to establish this panel to discover the truth.’

Ms Wilson said her mother would have been ‘greatly upset’ at not being listened to, and shocked the institution was put 'above the welfare of the patients’. She said other nurses agreed with her mother, but were too frightened to speak out.

The RCN's role

The report includes a letter dated after the December meeting addressed to some of the nurses who raised concerns. In it, Mr Murray said he felt the meeting might have alleviated the nurses’ concerns but also states he felt the ‘underlying problem is still there’.

An RCN spokesperson said this week: 'Every RCN region has paid officers who relay concerns from members to their employers, as Keith Murray assiduously did. If a branch officer feels members’ concerns are not being taken seriously, he or she can escalate the matter within the region, again as Keith subsequently did, for senior colleagues to make their own representations to the employer – as happened in this case. It was for the management of the hospital to act on these repeated concerns.'

Doctor's misconduct

The Gosport panel found that, over a 12-year period as clinical assistant Jane Barton was responsible for the prevailing prescribing practice on the wards.

In 2010, the GMC ruled Dr Barton, who has since retired, was guilty of multiple cases of professional misconduct relating to 12 patients who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

Hampshire Constabulary said the Gosport War Memorial Hospital deaths would be investigated by a different force following criticism of three previous police inquiries.

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has been invited to comment.

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