Reckoning looms for ‘Dr Opiate’, Gosport GP Jane Barton, after 27 years and 833 deaths

They are the words of warmth that became the kiss of death: “Please make comfortable.” As a GP at a hospital in Hampshire, Jane Barton would scribble the phrase on medical notes after prescribing painkillers for elderly patients in her care.

Those on the receiving end were supposed to be in extreme discomfort and on the brink of death: little else could justify high doses of powerful opiates. It would transpire that many patients were anything but.

Take Arthur Cunningham, 79, who died in Gosport War Memorial Hospital in 1998. His stepson insists he had minor health problems. “He went in to be treated for bedsores,” he said. “There’s no way he was near death.” Yet the former wartime pilot was given enough diamorphine, the medical name for heroin, to kill him.

Or Leonard Graham, 74, a retired engineer who went into hospital to recover from a bout of pneumonia. His widow’s testimony could not be clearer: “Len said he wasn’t in pain.”

Graham, too, was inexplicably loaded with diamorphine, in his case by a nurse described as Barton’s “right-hand man”. With opiates coursing through his blood, he died.