MORE THAN 450 patients died prematurely in a British hospital after they were given powerful painkillers for no medical reason in what a damning report found was a ''disregard for human life''.

An independent panel found that between 1989 and 2000 at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Southern England, there was an institutionalized regime of prescribing and administering dangerous doses of opioids which were not clinically justified.

''There was a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients,'' the report said, adding that the warnings from nurses had been ignored and there had been a failure by police and medical regulators to protect  patients.

It added :  ''The families, and in indeed the nation as a whole are entitled to ask how these events could have happened; and how the hospital dismissed the nurses' concerns and subsequent took no action; how the healthcare organizations failed to intervene.''

The 387-page report concluded that 456 patients were given opioids without justification and ''probably at least another 200 patients similarly affected but whose clinical notes were not found.''

The report noted the Gosport deaths and the concerns raised about them occurred at the same time it was reveled that British family physician Harold Shipman, dubbed ''Dr.Death''  had been responsible for killing patients in his care with lethal heroin injections.

Shipman convicted in 2000 for murdering 15 patients, killed as many as 250 people in his care according to a later inquiry.

But the panel examining the Gosport scandal said the circumstances were different.

''We draw a distinction because Harold Shipman  acted alone, apparently, whereas what we are describing to you in this report is an institutionalized practice and that is a significant difference,'' Reverend James Jones, the chairman of the independent panel, told reporters. [Reuters].


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