Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Technician was high in hospital theatre

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

An anaesthetic technician who collapsed in a hospital theatre while attending to a patient was high on a drug used in sedation, according to a report from the health watchdog.

Kristin Lawson has been struck off and censured for stealing and consuming the controlled drug Remifentanil, which she used three times last year while on duty at MercyAscot hospitals in Auckland.

Lawson also stole the drug from her employer to consume at home and admitted to once administering the painkiller to herself intravenously in the staff toilets.

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal cancelled Lawson's registration and censured her to express "significant disquiet" about the offending which it said put patients at risk.

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Registered anaesthetic technicians played a pivotal role in the provision of a patient and had to be alert, rested and able to deliver their service, the tribunal said.

It could not see a way for Lawson to continue in the profession because an anaesthetic technician must handle and control drugs.

The offending, which spanned four months from March last year, was discovered when Lawson looked "sleepy" before she fell off her stool while in theatre with a patient on June 25.

Because she had collapsed twice before at work, on the same dates she was later found to have stolen the drug, Lawson was required to go to an emergency department.

She reluctantly went but not before asking a colleague if he would sign the controlled drugs register to confirm she had destroyed two vials of 2mg of Remifentanil because they were expired.

The colleague refused because it was against policy.

Senior staff who inspected the records found Ms Lawson noted she had destroyed multiple vials of the drug without following appropriate policy including correct disposal.

An empty box of the drug was found in the controlled drugs cupboard and the next day Lawson texted her colleague asking him not to inform the anaesthetic team leader about her request to make the inappropriate entry on the register, the report said.

Lawson told the tribunal she began abusing drugs after she was involved in a traumatic car accident in February last year and suffered flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia.
She used the drug to help her "relax, sleep and forget".

But the tribunal said this could not excuse the serious misconduct of stealing the drug, using it at work and home, falsifying records to hide the offending, and trying to implicate colleagues.

The tribunal ordered Lawson to pay $6600, 25 per cent of the cost of the prosecution and hearing, after she said she had just bought into a catering franchise and had legal bills mounting for pending court proceedings over the offending.

Understood to be from Norway, Lawson said her residence status was now in question but it was unclear if she would have to leave the country.

Her application for name suppression was declined.

Ms Lawson could not be contacted for comment.

Mercy Hospital chief executive Dr Geoff Sparkes said the hospital took immediate disciplinary action, suspending Lawson when the offending came to light in a spot check.

An internal investigation was launched and the Ministry of Health, police and Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand were informed.

"The technician has not worked at the hospital since the suspension."

Dr Sparkes said Lawson had worked under the direct supervision of a consultant anaesthetist and would not have been in a position to give drugs to a patient independently.

He was confident no patients had been adversely affected by her actions.

- NZ Herald

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