Nurse 'tried to kill patients to free beds'

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The Independent Online

A nurse tried to murder four elderly patients in a campaign of "ruthless efficiency" to free beds, a court heard yesterday.

Barbara Salisbury, 47, a ward sister was heard urging one patient, "Give in, it's time to go", as she administered an overdose of diamorphine to get him off her ward, Chester Crown Court was told. Robin Spencer QC, for the prosecution, said the nurse had "brazenly overstepped the line between humane nursing and callous dispatch" by trying to hasten the death of the four patients. Ms Salisbury denies attempting to murder Reuben Thompson, 81, Frank Owen, 92, James Byrne, 76, and May Taylor, 88, all between 1999 and 2002.

Mr Spencer told the jury: "No one would wish to see an elderly relative suffer unnecessarily as death approaches but equally no nurse has the right actively to hasten death."

It was clear that for the four patients "days or even hours were numbered", Mr Spencer said. But Ms Salisbury was impatient. "She arrogated to herself the right to decide when they should die. In other words, she attempted to kill them."

In the case of James Byrne, a retired travelling salesman, in May 1999, Mr Spencer told the jury that Ms Salisbury was seen by a colleague, staff nurse Jane Booth, pressing the booster button on a Graseby machine, which is used to administer diamorphine over a long period. The 8ml solution of diamorphine should have been administered via the machine over a 24-hour period but it was fully infused in less than 16 hours. That would have required the booster button to be pressed 76 times. Mr Spencer said Ms Salisbury told Mr Byrne: "Give in, it's time to go."

She allegedly tried to kill Mr Thompson by removing his oxygen supply, lying him flat on his back and leaving him to drown in his own secretions. He was saved when a senior care assistant, Lee Evans, siphoned off the lung fluids and sat him up in bed.

In the case of Mrs Taylor, she administered an "unnecessary and inappropriate" dose of diamorphine, telling colleagues: "Why prolong the inevitable?"

She tried to kill Mr Owen by lying him on his back and telling another nurse: "With any luck, his lungs will fill with fluid and he will die." She is also alleged to have given him an unnecessary dose of diamorphine. Ms Salisbury was arrested after other nurses contacted police.

Mr Spencer told the jury the case was not about rights and wrongs of euthanasia. "Barbara Salisbury does not suggest that she was putting these old people out of their misery," he said. "The allegations, she says, are quite simply untrue.

"She was driven to free a hospital bed but, in fact, there will always be another patient waiting. If the patient could be made well enough to be discharged she would aim for that, if not she would hasten death. One way or another, she wanted these patients off her ward."

The jury was told that in December 1996, Ms Salisbury was appointed sister of ward five, a general medical ward, and remained there until December 2000, when she took a period of sick leave. In February 2002, she assumed the day-to-day control of ward four, when its manager was moved to a different unit.

Three of the alleged attempted murders were during her period in charge on ward four, the fourth on ward five when she was its sister. All patients have since died. The trial, which is expected to last for eight weeks, continues today.