Patient named in 'medicine tampering' case

MS sufferer was one of the three people hospital fears were killed by contaminated saline
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Indy Lifestyle Online

One of three people reported to have died after what police suspect were multiple cases of tampering with medicine at a Greater Manchester hospital was confirmed yesterday to be a 44-year-old mother of two who had previously been responding well to treatment.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Tracey Arden, of Heaviley, Stockport, died at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport on 7 July. Two male victims aged 71 and 84, who both had serious health problems, died last week.

Police investigating three deaths at the hospital after saline solution was deliberately contaminated are to interview 11 people who survived the effects of the tampered medication.

Ms Arden's brother, Gary, said yesterday that his sister died two hours after her parents left her bedside believing she was responding well to treatment. "During the afternoon my mother and father had been to visit her, then they left her looking like she was recovering well," Mr Arden said. "Colour was coming back into her cheeks and she was responding well to her treatment. They left, and then a relatively short while afterwards they received a call from the hospital that Tracey had taken a turn for the worse and they should come and see her. By the time my mother and father arrived she had just passed away."

He described his sister, who was diagnosed with MS when she was 32 and had been in care ever since, as "an everyday, young, fun-loving, smiling, hard-working mother of two". "Even through all of that illness she always had a smile and joke when I went to see her," he said.

The family, who were told Ms Arden had died from an illness associated with her condition but related to infections with her lungs and chest, have had to postpone the funeral while tests are carried out on her body.

"I don't think I am ever going to blame the NHS as an institution for what may or may not be the actions of a random person," Mr Arden said. "At this point in time my hope is that the investigation takes its due course and we find Tracey was nothing to do with this."

Security measures at the hospital have been stepped up to protect patients. But a source yesterday claimed security was "lax" before the incident due to redundancies made by Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital. As a result, people had been known to walk through wards unchallenged, the insider alleged. The trust source said: "The nurses are so busy they were run off their feet and are running around ragged. If anyone has got in it's due to all the staffing levels being cut. People are so busy that they cannot see everyone coming into the ward."

However, Mark Hunter, MP for Cheadle, said there had not been previous concerns about security at Stepping Hill Hospital and that it was held in "almost universally high regard by the community it serves". "This is obviously a very serious matter. I have to say I think the hospital has acted entirely responsibly, acted very promptly calling the police in as soon as it knew there was a problem," he said. "And the really important thing now is that the police are allowed to conclude their investigations as a matter of some urgency to provide reassurance to the wider community."

The alarm was raised last Tuesday after insulin was discovered in a batch of 36 saline ampoules in a hospital storeroom. A nurse had reported seeing a higher than normal number of patients with unexplained low blood sugar levels. Detectives believe the insulin was deliberately injected into saline containers used by at least two wards, but say the deaths remain unexplained as they await the results of post-mortems. "We are no longer treating the tampered medication as a sole contaminated batch because we cannot be sure that this was the only incident of its kind," a police source said. "We will be interviewing all those who became ill from the contaminated saline to find out if they can shed any light on who is responsible." A hospital spokesman said there were no redundancies before the incident.

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