There are different types of “politics” behind incidences of death in the medical arena, including a culture endorsing collective lying. Wendy Hesketh discusses this in her forthcoming book (An Introduction to Medico-crime, due out end of 2014).
Inqiuries into medico-crime or medical malpractice in the UK seem to have been commandeered for political purposes: rather than investigate the scale of the actual problem at hand; or learn lessons on how to avoid it in future; the inquiries seem designed only to push through current health policy (e.g. the inquiry into the deaths of children having heart surgery in a hospital in Bristol recommended changes to GPs’ contracts).
Ben Geen’s case is very similar to those of his fellow UK nurse, Colin Norris (also jailed for 30 years). Colin’s case is currently with the CCRC due in part to the involvement of Professor Vincent Marks and his expert opinion on insulin poisoning. Wendy Hesketh’s view is that the “Establishment” want the public to believe that, since the Shipman case, it is now easier to detect when a health professional kills (or sexually assaults) a patient. It’s good if the public think there will never be “another Shipman” and Ben Geen and Colin Norris being jailed for 30 years apiece sent out that message; as has the string of doctors convicted of sexual assault – but statistics have shown that a GP would have to have a killing rate to rival Shipman’s in order to have any chance of coming to the attention of the criminal justice system. In fact, the case of Northumberland GP, Dr. David Moor, who openly admitted in the media to killing (or, “helping to die”) around 300 patients in the media (he wasn’t “caught”) reflects this. Wendy argues in her book (An Introduction to Medico-crime) that it is not easier to detect a medico-killer now , since Shipman, but it is much more difficult for an innocent person to defend themselves once accused of medico-murder.
In Ben Geen’s case the first complaint which raised the accusation – an alcoholic patient, Timothy Stubbs – was the catalyst because the medical staff were probably not aware that he was an alcoholic and given that he was only in his early 40s, his condition deteriorated rapidly and inexplicably (for them, at that time) so the doctors made mistakes with their treatment of Stubbs, trying to stabilise him. There might also have been a culture of allowing the nurses, like Ben, to administer drugs to patients that only the doctors should have administered. So taking these two things together – the rapid and inexplicable deterioration of a relatively young patient which led to mistakes being made and Ben having been alone with the patient just before that deterioration – putting him in the frame as to the “cause” of the deterioration. This then set off a chain of events which involved trawling through medical records to try and find more possible “victims” that could be associated with Ben Geen. That is, doctors/nurses and hospital management, believing Ben to be guilty of deliberately trying to harm this patient then tried to find evidence to support this view and believed they had found it by unearthing records of other patients who had died at the hospital when Ben was on duty.
This “investigation” into other deaths with Ben as the common denominator by medically trained (but not forensically trained) people was, in terms of justice, more dangerous than investigation by the police – who would have been forced, by a lack of medical knowledge – to have been more objective about how patients had died. Unfortunately for Ben, these medically trained “investigators” were not objective but instead gave their own alternative account for how those patients died: an alternative account that suggested that they had been unlawfully killed. All of these now “suspicious deaths”, which were by then already linked to Ben, were passed on to the police. On receiving this bundle of hospital records as evidence of apparently unlawful killing by an identified nurse, the police will of course defer to the medical opinion as to the cause of these patients’ death because the police are in no position to question this. In fact, if carrying out their true role as investigators, the police should have asked why these deaths, which had been accepted as non-suspicious when each patient died, are suddenly being viewed as unlawful killing and all linked to one person.
The police cannot be objective and question the reasonableness of this situation, however, because Dame Janet Smith in the Shipman Inquiry openly criticised the police for not suspecting his patients had been unlawfully killed. She said that investigators should “think dirty” (i.e. suspect foul play). The message to the police was clear: always suspect that the medical professional is guilty and look for evidence in support of that. A similar message was given to the health profession. Sadly, Ben Geen has become a casualty of justice to that policy.
There is no incentive on the British government to change this policy because it is politically more acceptable to jail an innocent nurse than to admit to the public that it is still impossible to detect a true medico-murderer with a killing rate to rival Shipman’s. Jailing nurses like Ben Geen and Colin Norris for 30 years each serves only to send out the reassuring message to the public that the system is working when the facts suggest the opposite is true – true medico-murderers can still get away with killing patients without detection whilst innocent people are languishing in prison for crimes they did not commit. This state of affairs is bigger than Ben Geen, that’s why (regardless of the commendable efforts of his supporters) his release is doubtful until the UK has a proper debate about the subject of medico-crime.