A regional daily has been praised for playing a “prominent part” in pursuing concerns about a hospital where more than 650 patients died after being given opioids “without medical justification”.
An independent review into patient deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital has singled out Portsmouth daily The News for the way it made public concerns raised by families of people who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
Hampshire Constabulary previously conducted three separate inquiries into the matter, but no prosecutions were ever brought.
But the report has found repeated coverage by The News played a “significant part” in encouraging staff who had worked on the affected wards at the hospital to become whistleblowers.
The News first began publishing concerns about the hospital in 2001, and the issue was also covered by the Southern Daily Echo.
Following the publication of the report’s findings, The News splashed today with the headline ‘Now for justice’ after campaigners called for criminal prosecutions to be brought.
In its conclusion on the role of the media in exposing the issue, the panel wrote: “The documents show the prominent part played by the Portsmouth News in pursuing concerns about Gosport War Memorial Hospital (‘the hospital’) and the related police investigations, as well as the accuracy of its early reporting. The documents illustrate the sometimes close relationship between the police and the media.
“On 3 April 2001, the Portsmouth News published the story on its front page under the headline ‘Probe Into Suspicious Death at Hospital – police investigation into alleged unlawful killing of patient, 91′. The article suggested that detectives had prepared a dossier on the death and that the police might have to re-examine up to 600 other deaths at the hospital.
“The article put into the public domain the main issues at the hospital, which have taken a further 17 years to come fully to light. The documents show how the police and the healthcare organisations made contact when the media raised questions.
“The local media made a connection between the response to the criticisms being made by the relatives of the patients and the pride felt about the hospital in Gosport. The documents illustrate that the media coverage played a significant part in encouraging staff who had worked on the wards to take action. Local media coverage reflected a number of the concerns of the Gosport families.”
The report found The News’s initial coverage had led Pauline Spilka, a nursing auxiliary, to come forward.
She said: “This story has brought back some disturbing memories of incidents that occurred whilst employed at the hospital that I felt unable to highlight at the time. Having read this story I have decided that I am morally obliged to bring them up now.”
The News has continued to cover developments in the issue ever since.
Chief reporter Ben Fishwick, who spoke with the families yesterday along with health reporter Ellie Pilmoor, told HTFP: “Having spoken with the families yesterday it was humbling to see the strength of their tenacity rewarded with vindication for their long-fought campaign for answers.
“Many of them felt enormous relief to know what they had been saying for years was right and that they had finally been listened to, not just brushed off as troublemakers.
“The panel’s findings were clearly not the end for the families and we at The News will be continuing to cover their demands for justice.”
Mike Gilson, who edited The News at the time The News first covered the issue, said: “First and foremost tribute should be paid to the indomitable spirit of Gillian Mackenzie whose mother died in the hospital and who simply refused to accept the explanations from the powerful range of authorities she was up against. Gillian convinced us, badgered us even, into believing this was a case worth fighting
“Secondly our crime reporter Jonathan Carter took up the fight with dogged determination and skill. He accurately reported the number of deaths this could involve right from the first story we ran some 17 years ago. Time and time again we were told by those in authority, who effectively circled the wagons, that there was little to this story but, as the report shows, we stuck to our guns in our reporting and in our editorials.
“There is a great lesson for journalism in here that after our reporting a health worker was emboldened to speak out about what was going on at the hospital. I’m just obviously sorry that it has taken so long for some kind of justice to prevail for Gillian and all of the other victims and relatives.”