Chapter 6: The General Medical Council
Conclusion: what is added to public understanding
- Concerns about events at Gosport War Memorial Hospital were first brought to the attention of the General Medical Council in 2000. There is no suggestion from the documents that the General Medical Council was notified, either by the Royal College of Nursing or by the NHS, about the concerns expressed by nurses in 1991. Nor is there any suggestion that the General Medical Council was notified by Hampshire Constabulary or Portsmouth HealthCare NHS Trust, or anyone else, when concerns were expressed about the death of Gladys Richards.
- The documents are significant in assessing what weight should be given to Dr Jane Barton’s workload. The Panel has seen nothing in the documents to indicate that she raised concerns about her workload until she was in the process of being investigated. Dr Barton herself noted that she did put her concerns about the levels of nursing and medical staff in writing, but not until 2000.
- The documents show that the General Medical Council pursued concerns about Dr Barton’s prescribing through five interim orders proceedings. An order was made on the fifth occasion.
- The Panel also notes that the General Medical Council was not clear about the terms of the voluntary agreement. Even in July 2008, as the interim order was being considered, its Counsel was misquoting the agreement despite the fact that a copy had been provided at the time of the previous Interim Orders Committee in October 2004. Given the importance of the issues, it is surprising to find that there was confusion on this key element of the argument.
- By accepting the police’s request, the General Medical Council’s investigation effectively stalled. As a result, the hearing which had been set for April 2003 did not take place until June 2009. By the time of the sanctions hearing there had been a ten-year delay which in itself affected the sanction which was imposed. The Panel notes this as one of a number of examples of a process of accountability being undermined by deferring to another organisation.
- The documents show how Dr Barton benefited from the delay before the fitness to practise process took place. The ten-year delay was interpreted as ten years of good practice to weigh in the balance. The Gosport Independent Panel notes that the decision on the sanction to be imposed on Dr Barton was taken 19 years after the nurses had expressed concerns, as described in Chapter 1.
- The documents show that the General Medical Council had evidence against other doctors but decided to confine its investigations to Dr Barton.
- The families had raised a legitimate question of a potential conflict of interest involving Professor Christopher Bulstrode, Dr Barton’s brother. The documents show that the issue had not been considered before it was raised by family members; and that, when it was considered, there was a lack of candour in not disclosing the evidence of a possible connection between Dr Roger Smith, a member of the Fitness to Practise Panel, and Professor Bulstrode.