Detectives investigating a spate of deliberate poisonings at a hospital have arrested a male nurse after it was discovered that medical records had allegedly been tampered with.
The arrest follows the death of a fourth patient, Bill Dickson, 82, a former editor at the Manchester Evening News, on New Year's Eve. Mr Dickson was originally administered contaminated products last summer, when three people died and 16 other patients were also affected by the contamination of saline at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, Greater Manchester.
The 46-year-old nurse, who has worked at the hospital during the seven month police investigation, was arrested at his home in Stockport yesterday on suspicion of unlawfully administering a noxious substance or poison. He has not been named.
Police were alerted on Tuesday by a member of staff who noticed that prescription charts had been allegedly changed overnight. It is believed a patient was given additional amounts of medication. They were monitored by staff and later discharged.
But officers stressed they had not established a link between the male nurse and the incidents in June and July. Another nurse, Rebecca Leighton, 27, was charged with criminal damage with intent to endanger life and theft in connection with the inquiry. She was later released without charge.
Yesterday Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney said he could not rule out further arrests being made in the coming days and weeks. He also sought to reassure patients and staff at the hospital about the investigation. Up to 60 detectives have been working on the case, and they have, so far, spoken to 650 people.
He said: "I know relatives of the confirmed victims affected and the public continue to seek answers and we are working as quickly as we can to provide them without jeopardising the quality or integrity of the investigation."
All four deaths took place on wards A1, A2 or A3, acute care wards caring for seriously ill patients. The altered records were found on ward A3.
Mr Dickson, who had also worked at the Daily Mail, was from Cheadle Hulme. The other dead victims included Tracey Arden, 44, a mother of two, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. She died on 7 July two hours after her parents left her bedside believing she was recovering.
Four days later retired photographer Arnold Lancaster, 71, also died. On the same day, Alfred Weaver, known as Derek, became critically ill after being admitted with breathing difficulties 24 hours earlier. He died on 21 July.
A number of other initially unexplained deaths at the hospital were investigated but later ruled out of the police inquiry.
Chris Burke, chief executive of Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, paid tribute to medics and said patient safety remained the top priority. The hospital has imposed extra security, stopping and searching vehicles coming in and out of the site, and staff are supervised when handling drugs.
"We are appalled by the malicious intent of this act, but thanks to the skill and experience of our staff it was spotted and reported immediately, and most importantly, we ensured no patient suffered any ill-effects," he said.