Chapter 10: The local MP
Chapters 4 to 9 show what the documents say about the response of the relevant authorities to the concerns expressed by families. This chapter completes that process, by looking at how the documents highlight the response of the Member of Parliament. Sir Peter Viggers was the MP for Gosport from 1974 to 2010 and, as such, was the local MP for Gosport War Memorial Hospital (‘the hospital’). Indeed, Sir Peter was born in Gosport and his connections with the area are long standing.
Sir Peter served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Wessex Regiment. Since 1972 he has been chairman and director of various public and private companies and an underwriter at Lloyd’s. He served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Industry Minister) in the Northern Ireland Office from 1986 to 1989 and was knighted for his services to Parliament in 2008.
This chapter covers the documents seen by the Panel describing Sir Peter’s approach to concerns raised about the hospital. Reflecting the timing of his knighthood, Sir Peter is described as Mr Viggers in this chapter before 2008. Caroline Dinenage was elected as the local MP in 2010, and the chapter also includes reference to her involvement.
When the hospital faced closure, Mr Viggers was part of the campaign to keep it open, as he would later make clear in the House of Commons (FAM004456, p2).
The first reference in the documents reviewed by the Panel is a letter from Mr Viggers to Gillian Mackenzie, the daughter of Gladys Richards, on 26 February 2001. His letter refers back to papers provided by Mrs Mackenzie to Councillor Bartlett suggesting a meeting between Councillor Bartlett and himself. Mr Viggers said that he would need to have details of the problem before he could decide whether there was any action he could properly take (FAM004408).
Within three days of his first letter, Mr Viggers wrote to Mrs Mackenzie again. He referred to Mrs Mackenzie having spoken to his secretary on the telephone. Mr Viggers’ letter points out that, since Mrs Mackenzie did not live in the constituency of Gosport, in line with the convention, he could not take up her case. He would transfer it to Nigel Waterson, her constituency MP, if she wanted him to do so (FAM004409).
In a letter of 7 March, Mrs Mackenzie explained why she had written to Mr Viggers and had no intention of involving Mr Waterson. She explained that the issue as to whether Mrs Richards had been unlawfully killed was now with the Crown Prosecution Service. The hospital was in Mr Viggers’ constituency and it was in the interests of his constituents that he should be aware of the situation. Mrs Mackenzie offered to meet with Mr Viggers and pointed out that her sister, Lesley Lack, did live in his constituency (FAM000982). Mr Viggers’ office acknowledged Mrs Mackenzie’s letter on 12 March: he was away and would see the correspondence the following week on his return.
On 3 April, the Portsmouth News reported the police investigation into the alleged unlawful killing of a 91-year-old woman and referred to her daughter, Mrs Mackenzie. A related article recalled that the town had fought for its hospital: “the people of Gosport are proud of the complex – and defensive of it” (DOH603574, p1).
The following day, the Portsmouth News reported that the Department of Health and its Ministers were aware of the police investigation. Under the headline “MP passes papers on to colleague”, Mrs Mackenzie was reported as having given a file to Mr Viggers, who in turn had passed it on to Mr Waterson. Mr Viggers was said to have stated that he was satisfied that the case was being properly handled by the Hampshire Constabulary and by the Portsmouth HealthCare NHS Trust, adding: “I would only become involved if there was a breakdown of the normal authorities” (DOH603590, p1).
On 17 April, Mr Viggers wrote to Max Millett, Chief Executive of Portsmouth HealthCare NHS Trust, referring to Mrs Mackenzie’s approach to him and to the press reports. He asked for a briefing from the appropriate person (DOH600057, p3).
Mr Millett replied two days later, confirming that Mrs Richards’ case was being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service. Mr Millett added that there had been a second complaint from a relative about the care of another patient at the hospital, also in 1998. Mr Millett said that this complaint had been investigated internally. The relative had remained unhappy and referred his complaint to the Health Service Ombudsman who had not found evidence of unsatisfactory medical or nursing care. Mr Millett said that the Ombudsman was satisfied that the patient was not given excessive doses of morphine. He did not uphold the complaint (DOH600057, pp1–2).
Mr Millett’s letter stressed that the Ombudsman’s investigation was independent of the Trust and involved external medical and nursing advisers. Mr Millett pointed out: “the only criticism of the Trust made by the Ombudsman was for an error relating to the microfilming of some nursing records, e.g. fluid charts, but the majority of the patient’s records were available and were adequate for the advisers to assess the adequacy of care.” The relative was unhappy with the Ombudsman’s findings and had asked the police to investigate his complaint as another unlawful killing (DOH600057, pp1–2).
Mr Millett went on to draw attention to the fact that the Portsmouth News’ coverage had also referred to three or four more people having approached them with similar concerns. He said that the Trust had received no formal complaints from these ‘new’ names, and had not previously been aware of their concerns. He made it clear that the Trust was “more than ready to meet with anyone who has concerns about the care of their relative in this hospital”. None of the people mentioned, Mr Millett suggested, had contacted the Trust, either directly or via the Portsmouth News. Mr Millett said that there were therefore only two definite complaints to date. One had been fully investigated by the police, and the other had been subject to an independent investigation which had concluded that the care given was appropriate (DOH600057, p2).
Mr Millett concluded his letter by saying that he hoped this had given Mr Viggers sufficient background on the situation but that he should not hesitate to contact him again if he could help further (DOH600057, p2).
On 23 October, the Portsmouth News reported that the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI) would be investigating. Mr Viggers was quoted as saying: “In the many years I have been a Member of Parliament for Gosport, I have had nothing but praise for Gosport War Memorial Hospital” (DOH603421, p1).