More than 450 patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital lost their lives early because they were inappropriately given powerful opioid analgesics, a public inquiry has concluded.

Between 1987 and 2001 an additional 200 lives were also likely to be have been shortened if missing medical records are taken into account, according to an independent panel.

The review found “a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients”, overseen by Dr Jane Barton, who routinely overprescribed powerful painkillers to patients over this time frame.

According to the report, there was “an institutionalised regime of prescribing and administering dangerous doses of a hazardous combination of medication not clinically indicated or justified, with patients and relatives powerless in their relationship with professional staff.”

Concerns about the prescribing practice were first raised by nursing staff in 1988 and senior staff and consultants were also aware but did not intervene, the panel said. When families voiced concerns “they were consistently let down by those in authority – both individuals and institutions.”

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said there had been “a catalogue of failings by the local NHS, Hampshire Constabulary, the GMC, the NMC, the Coroners and, as steward of the system, the Department of Health”.

“Nothing I say today will lessen the anguish and pain of families who have campaigned for 20 years for justice after the loss of a loved one. But I can at least on behalf of the government and the NHS apologise for what happened and what they have been through,” Hunt said.

“Had the establishment listened when junior NHS staff spoke out, had the establishment listened when ordinary families raised concerns instead of treating them as ‘troublemakers’, many of those deaths would not have happened.”

The police, working with the CPS and clinicians, will now “carefully examine the new material” in the report to determine whether any criminal charges should be brought.