Drugs regime at hospital unit ‘open to abuse by any member of staff so minded’

The drugs regime on a hospital stroke unit was so lax that staff embarked on a “free for all” in pilfering medicines, a court has heard.

On Thursday, nurse Catherine Hudson, 54, was convicted of doping patients at Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s stroke unit to “keep them quiet and compliant”.

She had earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal drugs from the hospital.

One of the sedatives she used was Zopiclone, a Class C controlled drug, and a short-term prescription-only treatment for insomnia.

Jurors heard that the sleeping pill was “potentially life-threatening” if inappropriately administered to a patient.

Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Catherine Hudson worked on the stroke unit at Blackpool Victoria Hospital (Alamy/PA)

Opening the case, Peter Wright KC, said an internal review followed which revealed the process of supply from the hospital pharmacy to the administration of Zopiclone on prescription was “so lax as to be virtually incapable of being correctly audited or safely administered”.

He said: “It was a system that was open to abuse and we say was accordingly ripe for manipulation by any member of staff who was so minded.”

The review suggested that in September and October 2018 a total of 1,100 Zopiclone tablets were dispensed but only 207 were recorded as having been prescribed and 222 were recorded as being administered during the same period.

Once the investigation started, the transactions involving Zopliclone “fell off a cliff”, Mr Wright said.

Giving evidence, Hudson said medication was “scattered around” the unit and freely available.

She added that the “whole ward was corrupt” and that “95% of the staff” would take medication from the unit.

Hudson said: “A lot of Zopiclone was taken by people who took drugs, who took Class A drugs on a recreational basis.

“I have subsequently been told that Zopiclone can be used as a comedown.”

She said some staff would use drugs such as Tramadol and Oramorph – liquid morphine – before their shifts started.

Hudson said the theft of drugs from the unit was “not a secret” and “regrettably” she later joined in.

She told the court: “I tried to report it and the answer was ‘there is nothing I can do Cathy because we would all be in trouble’.

“I can’t justify it now. The only answer I have got is that it was commonplace.”

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