The deaths of at least 10 patients, and possibly as many as 50, who were in the care of a senior hospital intensive care specialist are being investigated by police.

The deaths of at least 10 patients, and possibly as many as 50, who were in the care of a senior hospital intensive care specialist are being investigated by police.

Ann David, a consultant anaesthetist, has been suspended since August after concerns were raised by a colleague about her unusually high doses of painkillers.

An internal investigation was launched at Basildon Hospital in Essex, and an external one carried out by the Royal College of Anaesthetists. Detectives were called in last week when the process was complete.

Few details have been released by Essex Police or Basildon and Thurrock General Hospitals Trust about the allegations of "inappropriate use of medicines", but it is understood that the cases involved elderly people who were terminally ill and that none of the allegations involve children.

The number of suspicious deaths has not been released but it is thought there could have been as many as 50. An inquiry is being carried out by Essex Police's 30-strong major investigations team, although no arrest has been made.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: "The investigation is at very early stages. But I can confirm we have spoken to relatives of former patients at the hospital. I cannot say how many patients' deaths are being investigated at this stage."

Relatives of all patients who it is believed could have died suspiciously have been contacted. A police source said: "The suggestion is that she gave an extra dose to patients to send them on their way but to prove that is another thing altogether. It is a very complicated case." The Crown Prosecution Service has been consulted over the deaths and the inquiry could spread to Wordsley Hospital in the West Midlands, where Ms David worked until the late Nineties.

Ms David, who is in her forties, lives alone in Rayleigh, Essex. Yesterday the doctor, who is on full pay, was not at home and had not been seen by neighbours for several days.

Police have refused to say if Ms David has been interviewed. A source at the hospital said: "This is not psychopath stuff - if anything it is helping people to go gently and it is going to be a very grey area."

* Alan Milburn, Secretary of State for Health, has ordered an urgent investigation into heart and lung transplants at St George's Hospital, Tooting, south London, after eight out of 11 people who had the operation this year died. The hospital has suspended all such transplants until further notice.

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