If a vulnerable person isn’t safe in a hospital, where is anyone safe? Yesterday it was announced that police are investigating three suspicious deaths at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport.
Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney
of Greater Manchester Police told journalists that over the past two days police had identified three deaths linked to an apparent sabotage of medication: a 44 year old woman and two elderly men. Eleven other patients are thought to have been affected.
Vials of saline solution used to treat patients who are dehydrated or who cannot eat or drink had been contaminated with insulin. A spokesman for the local hospital trust
, Dr Chris Burke, said the problem had been identified by staff, that security had been increased, and all potentially defective saline ampoules had been replaced.
Although the word murder was not used by either of the above spokesmen, it is clear from the response of both the police and the hospital that this is a murder investigation in all but name. The strict procedures in place in all British hospitals for handling medicines and equipment make it highly unlikely such contamination could be anything but a deliberate and calculated act.
In 1993, Beverley Allitt was convicted of murdering four children and attacking nine others at the Grantham hospital where she worked as a nurse.
Probably the most shocking feature of the Allitt case was the state of denial which appeared to affect the hospital management. According to Nick Davies in Murder On Ward Four
, the police were called in only eleven days after being told there may have been foul play involved in a series of respiratory and cardiac failures.
In the wake of Allitt’s conviction, Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley set up an inquiry
under Sir Cecil Clothier which reported in 1994. For once, an official report appears to have been worth the candle; it is clear that in spite of they’re having to think the unthinkable, the staff at Stepping Hill Hospital realised something terrible had happened.
In January 2000, Dr Harold Shipman, a general practitioner in Manchester, was convicted of murdering fifteen of his patients, but is known to have murdered a great many more. This case too resulted in an official investigation – an enormous public inquiry which made its final report
in January 2005.
Whether the current deaths were caused by someone working at the hospital or by some outside agency; by a psychopath like Shipman, or a psychotic like Allitt, we can only hope now that whoever is responsible is brought to book before he or she can strike again.