Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Nurse censured and fined for stealing pain drugs

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A nurse has been censured and fined for stealing the potentially addictive pain relief drug Tramadol while working at Middlemore Hospital.

Sheridan Ann Hattaway pleaded guilty to the charge at a Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

In a decision released today, the tribunal said Ms Hattaway had misappropriated eleven 50mg capsules of the drug between July 13, 2011 and August 2, 2011, from five different patients. The tribunal said the act amounted to professional misconduct.

It said on five occasions she accessed a machine that dispensed various drugs, typed in a patient's name and removed the Tramadol pills but did not administer them to the patient.

Four of the five patients were never prescribed the drug.

Tramadol is a synthetic opiate, which has a lower side-effect profile than Morphine, and causes less nausea, respiratory depression and sedation.

Because Tramadol affected the central nervous system it would alter a user's mental state, the tribunal said.

An investigation by the hospital was launched when discrepancies in the number of tablets was discovered. The inquiry resulted in Ms Hattaway being fired on September 27.

Ms Hattaway told the tribunal it was "simply bad practice'' that led her into appearing before them.

She said she used to carry medication in her pocket; Panadol, Tramadol and asthma treatment medication, to dispense to patients who had been prescribed the drugs.

She would enter the name of a patient whose chart she happened to have on hand whilst at the Pyxis machine and accessed the drug, put it in her pocket and disposed of it at the end of the day if not used, she said.

But the tribunal said, while there was no evidence that Ms Hattaway was using the drugs for herself, her explanation of accessing the medication for patients seemed "highly implausible''.

"The conclusion that the tribunal have drawn from the evidence before it is that Ms Hattaway intended to access Tramadol for purposes other than giving it to patients.''

The tribunal put Ms Hattaway on notice by suspending her from practice for six months, but that suspension would only be enforced if she failed to organise a supervisor and enrol in nursing courses within three months.

The tribunal also ordered her to pay $5000 in costs.

- APNZ

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