On 20th June 2018 a Government statement about the Gosport Independent panel, chaired by the former Bishop of Liverpool, was repeated in the House of Lords. The Bishops of Lincoln and Coventry spoke after the statement to ask questions of the Minister. Their exchanges are below:
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, I declare an interest as my wife is a lead clinician in the office of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. My friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth cannot be in his place today as he is in his cathedral church with the families of those whose loved ones were patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, as they properly received the report prior to it being laid before Parliament. On his behalf, and sharing his profound concern and with some anger as a vicar and archdeacon in that area at that time, I politely remind the Minister of the evidence of disregard for human life, a culture of deliberately shortening life, and a regime of systematic overuse of opioids and of the way in which those raising concerns were treated as troublemakers. The Statement repeated by the Minister raises many questions. My questions and the questions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth are simple pastoral questions: how will the Government now guarantee the families the support they deserve? How and when will the Government act on the wider issues the report raises?
Lord O’Shaughnessy: I thank the right reverend Prelate for his comments and for conveying those of his colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. It is absolutely right that he is where he is today, ministering to that group of deeply affected people.
The facts as he set them out, and as are set out in the Statement, are truly shocking: hundreds of lives prematurely shortened because of these practices; institutional behaviour led by an individual but with others being complicit in it; cover-ups; whistleblowers being discouraged; and so on. It is hard to imagine a worse scenario. What the panel and Bishop James Jones have exposed through working so closely with families is the extent of the behaviour and the poor practice that went on.
The question now is, quite rightly, what we should do about it, and the right reverend Prelate quite rightly takes the pastoral position. There is counselling on offer and a helpline for those who think that their families may have been affected—there may be yet more people who come forward. There is also a commitment from the Secretary of State, and indeed all Ministers, to meet families to provide them with the support and information that they may need. There is an intention to meet those families at an event convened by Bishop Jones in October, and the panel secretariat is setting up specific conversations between the advisory clinicians on the board and individual families. One of the needs for counselling, sadly, will be after those conversations, when the truth about specific cases comes out—which is why it is about providing counselling not just today but on an ongoing basis. I can give the right reverend Prelate a commitment from the department that we will provide that for as long as necessary.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, like others, I was very moved by Bishop James Jones’s foreword and the way that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, put it, the panel thought to listen to and heed the concerns of those who have been aggrieved. I have been impressed by the methodology, I suppose, of the independent panel and the way it has done exactly as the Minister says: seek to work closely with the families and, so far as I understand, build its terms of reference from the particular concerns of the families, the aggrieved and the victims—the sort of questions they are wanting to ask. Have the Government made any assessment of whether independent panels are more effective than judge-led inquiries at not only excavating the truth in historic cases but, in so doing, thereby attending to the trauma of the bereaved?
Lord O’Shaughnessy: The right reverend Prelate makes a very incisive point about not only the personal qualities of Bishop James Jones in chairing this panel, with the great compassion, understanding and patience that he has displayed, as indeed has the panel, but about the methodology, as the right reverend Prelate put it, which has been non-confrontational, independent and family-focused. Unfortunately, we grapple with these problems across government from time to time, and this methodology gives us a new way of doing things. It will not be appropriate in every circumstance—something smaller or swifter might be required; equally, it might be something that requires a judicial element—but it gives us a different way of doing things that provides a very sympathetic and compassionate way of listening to families and a way to get closer to the truth.