Staff 'took drugs from hospital'

News Shopper: Rebecca Leighton was arrested but eventually cleared over the poisoning deaths of patients at Stepping Hill Hospital Rebecca Leighton was arrested but eventually cleared over the poisoning deaths of patients at Stepping Hill Hospital

A nurse cleared over the poisoning deaths of patients at Stepping Hill Hospital has claimed staff habitually took drugs from the premises in "case of emergencies" during their holidays.

Rebecca Leighton, 29, spent six weeks in jail after she was arrested over the deaths but was released when prosecutors concluded there was not enough evidence against her.

However, she was sacked for theft after police investigating the deaths found packets of painkillers and opiate-based drugs at her home.

On Monday she admitted removing the medication from the hospital in Stockport, Greater Manchester, and conceded that her fitness to practice was impaired.

During police interviews, she claimed staff regularly took drugs such as the painkiller ibuprofen for their own use, a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) disciplinary panel was told.

Tom Hoskins, for the NMC, said: "She said that if the police were to search any number of employees from Stepping Hill Hospital, a random person, they would find them also in possession of such tablets."

He added: "The registrant accepts she had removed them and indicated that a lot of other people at the hospital engaged in the same enterprise, talking about an example where a member of staff would go on holiday and would take the drugs with them in case of emergencies."

A total of 22 people suffered hypoglycaemic episodes after saline drips were allegedly sabotaged with insulin between June and July 2011 at Stepping Hill. Eight of these victims - all of whom were being treated on acute care wards for seriously ill patients - have now died. A second nurse who worked on the same wards, Victorino Chua, was later held on suspicion of three counts of murder and 18 counts of causing grievous bodily harm. He was further arrested on suspicion of tampering with medical records and has been released on police bail.

Paul Rooney, for Ms Leighton, told the hearing the nurse admitted the allegations against her which relate to seven drugs, including Tramadol capsules which she is accused of supplying or intending to supply. He said: "Ms Leighton accepts that these charges amount to misconduct and further accepts that by that misconduct, she has brought the profession into disrepute and therefore her current fitness to practice is impaired."

But interviews with other members of staff employed by the hospital appeared to contradict her suggestion that taking drugs from Stepping Hill Hospital was commonplace. An investigation by the Trust revealed only two employees were aware of the alleged practice but they claimed it was limited to paracetamol and did not extend to prescription drugs, the hearing was told. Ms Leighton faces being struck off following the hearing, which is due to last three days.

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