Questions raised over nurses' overdose deaths — (WA News)

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WA News

July 15, 2013

Rania Spooner, Court and crime reporter

The fatal drug overdoses of two nurses working in Perth’s public hospitals have come under coronial scrutiny amid concerns the controlled substances could have come from their workplaces.

Hayley Bree Fisher, 27, died during a shift at King Edward Memorial Hospital in the early hours of December 14, 2009.

The cause of her death was recorded as opiate toxicity.

She was believed to have injected herself with the powerful opiate analgesic Fentanyl while on a break in the staff toilets, the Coroner’s Court heard on Monday.

The amount of Fentanyl found in Ms Fisher’s body was double the amount considered lethal.

The inquest heard other controlled substances including morphine, pethidine and codeine were also found in her body.

Detective Senior Constable Hayley Burke, who investigated Ms Fisher’s case, concluded the death had likely been an accidental overdose.

Giving evidence she said Ms Burke had made plans for the holiday months ahead and had not left a note to indicate she had taken her own life.

Police were not able to conclusively establish how she was able to obtain the drugs, she said.

There was only one record of Ms Fisher signing out Fentanyl from the hospital’s stores in the week before her death, the court heard.

That entry was for a patient she helped on the night before her death.

Ms Fisher had been seeing a GP for depression and grief over her mother’s death, the court heard.

She had been prescribed antidepressants, benzodiazepines and codeine and had also been referred to a psychiatrist in October 2009.

Her former GP, Dr Yamini Preetham, told the court that Ms Fisher’s problems with depression and prescription drugs were not disclosed to her workplace in order to protect patient confidentiality.

On the day of her death Ms Fisher had complained to a colleague of mood swings due to an increase in her dose of antidepressant medication, the inquest heard.

Six months after Ms Fisher’s death another Perth nurse died of a suspected accidental overdose in an unrelated tragedy.

Craig James Doherty, 39, was found dead in his home after failing to turn up to work at Royal Perth Hospital in early June 2010.

A search of his home unearthed a large quantity of drugs and medical supplies, which appeared likely to have been obtained from RPH, the inquest heard.

One particular drug, adrenaline, could have only come from the hospital.

A fatal dose of the drug Propofol was found in his system, which coupled with the drug Lignocaine, was suspected to have contributed to his death.

Propofol is a short acting anaesthetic and a restricted drug under the Poisons Act.

“It appears he was able to easily obtain the drug from work,” counsel assisting the coroner Marco Tedeschi said in his opening address.

Before his death Mr Doherty had returned to work after a previous overdose on prescription medication that saw him hospitalised in March 2008, the court heard.

“He was given a warning and allowed to return to work,” Mr Tedeschi said.

The deaths are being investigated together to evaluate to what extent both nurses were able to access controlled substances through their workplaces without detection.

The coroner will also look at whether changes to storage and access to controlled drugs in hospitals recommended by a 2012 Crime and Corruption Commission report have been implemented.