Police inquiry launched into hospital deaths inquiry

Care unit alert: Nurse sacked after four patients die
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The Independent Online
Police are investigating the deaths of four patients, including two girls aged 12 and 15, in the adult intensive care ward of a Newcastle upon Tyne hospital following the dismissal of a nurse sacked for "gross misconduct". All four patients who died had at one time been under the care of the nurse now under investigation.

Northumbria police, called in by the coroner to conduct a full inquiry, are examining hospital records going back to 1991.

Jim Cousins, MP for Newcastle Central, yesterday called for a public inquiry into the management of the intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary. "We are talking about extremely grave events which have occurred over a long period of time," he said.

He added that if matters now involved the criminal law, why was it left to the coroner's office to bring in the police? "Why did the hospital trust not raise the alarm sooner if they had suspicions?" he asked.

Northumbria police confirmed a team of 12 detectives is investigating the deaths.

The nurse, in her late 30s, worked at the Royal Victoria Infirmary for 17 years before being sacked at a full disciplinary hearing last month. She had been suspended for a month after an internal inquiry questioned her professional conduct relating to four deaths in the ITU between 1991 and 1995.

The police said yesterday they would interview the nurse this week. A force spokeswoman said relatives of three patients were being contacted, but one of the patients has yet to be identified.

A hospital spokeswoman said the two girls who died had been moved to the adult unit "because of the nature of their injuries". The other patients who died were a 69-year-old woman and a middle aged man.

Relatives of the dead 15-year-old, Patricia Dryden, from Blyth, said yesterday they had "been through hell" but were now facing another nightmare asking themselves could Patricia have lived?

Patricia's uncle, John Dryden, confirmed police had told the family they were investigating "irregularities in procedures in the intensive care unit". His niece had died after a gas aerosol she had been sniffing had ignited and exploded in her face. The burns she sustained were said to be "extreme".

Concerns over the nurse's conduct were raised at the beginning of this year by another nurse who worked in the unit. Although not confirmed by the hospital authorities or the police, it is understood there were concerns over the removal of treatment for some seriously ill patients, and that in one case a drip feed was turned off without appropriate authority.

According to the coroner's office in Newcastle, the coroner, Leonard Coyle, was contacted by the hospital's solicitor shortly after the nurse's sacking last month. On learning the alleged facts behind the dismissal, Mr Coyle called in the police.

After her dismissal, the nurse lodged an immediate appeal.