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Essex: Nurse suspended in drugs inquiry at Colchester General Hospital

Colchester General Hospital

Colchester General Hospital

A nurse working at one of Colchester’s hospitals has been suspended on suspicion of tampering with controlled drugs.

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A staff member at the hospital has been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing over bullying and harassment claims relating to manipulating waiting lists.

During the cancer waiting time scandal it was alleged that staff had been pressured by managers to alter endoscopy and dermatology waiting time figures.

An external investigation was commissioned shortly after the whistleblowers’ concerns were raised in November last year, which reported back two weeks ago.

Dr Lucy Moore, interim chief executive of Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust, told a board meeting yesterday: “As a consequence there has been a suspension of a member of staff.

“We are also reviewing what other steps we need to take both to assure ourselves patients would not be harmed as a consequence and also to assess whether there are any other areas that we need to review with a high level of scrutiny.”

In a statement after the meeting she added: “It would be wrong to prejudge the outcome of the disciplinary process but it is important to stress that nothing is more important to us than the safety and wellbeing of those we care for.

“We will now conduct a wider review and we will be open and transparent as we proceed taking all necessary steps to ensure ongoing patient safety.”

The issue was raised at a board meeting of Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust yesterday.

Interim trust chief executive Dr Lucy Moore said: “In relation to controlled drugs there have been a number of incidents where they have been tampered with. We are investigating all of those under our serious incident policy.

“But because of a number of potential connections we are conducting a wider review.

“The police are involved in this matter and assisting us to identify whether there is any one individual who is linked to it. We are not aware of any ongoing patient safety issues in relation to this.”

It is understood an agency worker, rather than a permanent member of staff, has been identified as being potentially behind the incidents and suspended while investigations continue.

Dee Hackett, director of nursing at the trust which runs both Essex County and Colchester General hospitals, said such incidents were very rare because robust measures were in place around the issuing of controlled drugs.

An example of a controlled drug would be morphine-based drugs, rather than antibiotics.

The tampering was noticed by a staff member who initially reported the discrepancy with concerns there was a potential problem with the drug batch.

Mrs Hackett added the trust would be working with the Royal Marsden Hospital Trust, its “buddy” hospital while it is placed in special measures by the watchdog Monitor, to review its processes and ensure they were as tight as possible.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which licences nurses to practise, is also understood to be conducting its own investigation.

A spokesman for Essex Police said the force’s investigation into the incident was ongoing.

Maternity units in Tendring set to re-open

Maternity units in Clacton and Harwich will be re-opened as soon as staff rotas have been put in place after having been closed since March.

The board followed a recommendation to re-open the birthing units on an “on demand” basis, instead of 24/7 as they were before the temporary closure.

Hospital chiefs decided to close the Tendring units temporarily to cover a shortage of midwives at the central Colchester ward.

Yesterday’s meeting heard how 5.6 full-time equivalent midwives have been recruited since then.

However there were still not enough to allow the coastal units to have a permanent staffing prescence. Instead they will be open during core hours, and then as and when a mother went into labour.

Amanda Hallums, divisional director for women and children, said “at least a dozen” more midwives were needed to get to full levels, but added “a critical mass of 300 births per year” would justify 24/7 opening. Clacton currently has around 190 births per year, and Harwich just 90.

Campaigners against the maternity closure welcomed the partial re-opening but made renewed calls for full service to resume.

The hospital board also said it was reviewing the criteria to allow more people to use the midwife-led units and encourage more Tendring mothers to give birth within the district instead of choosing to come to Colchester.

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