My grandmother Elsie Devine was our rock. She was 88 years old when she died at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital two decades ago. Yet it was only this week that an inquiry, which we have long been pushing for due to the Crown Prosecution Service’s failure to prosecute, has found out what we already knew. Our grandmother’s life was shortened by the very people who were supposed to be looking after her.
My grandmother was in Gosport for respite care – she went into a local hospital to be treated for a urinary tract infection and was discharged. But at that time my father had leukaemia and was undergoing a bone marrow transplant, and we were all with him because we didn’t know from one day to the next if he was going to live or die. We didn’t want our grandmother to go home to an empty house and worry about us, so we decided it was best that she went to Gosport for six weeks until we returned home.
We thought she was in the best possible hands. We’d come every week to see gran, while my uncle, aunty and cousin would visit her every day – they’re all from Gosport, so the situation seemed perfect.
On Friday 19 November, after she had been there four weeks, we received a call from my uncle to say the hospital had informed him that gran had 36 hours to live. He was shaken, as he had only seen her the day before, kissed her good night and told her he would see her tomorrow. Sandra, her daughter in law, had spent the afternoon with her, drying her hair that had just been washed and making sure gran signed her pension book.
We didn’t know at that time, but by this point staff had applied a fentanyl patch on her back. My gran had never had as much as a paracetamol before; she was never in pain and did not have cancer. This patch, when it reaches full strength, at 17 to 23 hours, is equivalent of 135g of morphine. The next morning my eight stone grandmother, who was about 4ft 11in, was reported to be aggressive, and we think she was probably frightened for her life as she was now suffering from a massive overdose.
She was then held down on the floor by nursing staff and injected in the buttocks with 50mg of an antipsychotic drug called chlorpromazine. It’s a very, very painful injection that normally starts at 10mg. Around 50 minutes later, they put a syringe driver in her back and loaded that with 40mg of diamorphine, and 40mg of midazolam. Midazolam is what they use on death row. Gran had no chance.
She wasn’t the only one. My grandmother was one of a possible 650 people whose lives were shorted due to being given lethal doses of painkillers without medical justification.
What happened at Gosport was chilling. The inquiry, led by the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, did as good a job as they could with the terms of reference, and they listened to our concerns.
But this should have been a public inquiry, as it is of such national importance, under the 2005 Inquiries Act section 15. It is the largest ever investigation into the NHS, and without former care minister Norman Lamb MP and Stephen Lloyd MP the truth would never have been told.
We all know about the Hillsborough inquiry, and how long and how bravely the victims’ families fought to be heard. We don’t want to wait so many years for justice. We need legal advice, whichever way this is decided, and now we are raising money to hire a barrister to take our case forwards. Nobody has been held to account for what has happened, and that’s why this investigation has to be returned to the police.
Everyone involved in this – all the doctors, nurses, General Medical Council, police, the coroners' office, the Department of Health and the CPS – have got on with their lives. But my mother hasn’t. This has taken 20 years from her as she fights for justice for her mother and our grandmother. We are damned if we are going to allow this government to sit on this for however long they want. They are happy to talk about the issue, as if it has been buried in history, surrounded by all the taxpayer-funded lawyers, while we receive nothing.
The review cannot comment about why this happened to so many people – or call it manslaughter or murder, because it is outside of their terms of reference. But shortening life is killing, and questions must be asked of those responsible. How can we live in a country where this sort of brutality can exist in our health system and then people just walk around like nothing’s happened?
I don’t talk to anyone about this. I haven’t told my friends or my work colleagues. They just thought I was having three days’ holiday, but now everyone is aware of who we are. We’ve lived this life for 20 years and we want to stop living it. I don’t want my mum carrying it into her eighties.
I feel a strange mix of relief and anger. But, as James Jones said, this is not closure. This is just the beginning of the next step.
Bridget Reeves is the granddaughter of Elsie Devine. She is raising money for a barrister on GoFundMe. You can contribute to the campaign here