Trust in medical care shaken greatly in wake of hospital poisoning case

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe dignity of patients has been ignored. This is an incident which has greatly shaken public trust in medical care.

In connection with the poisoning deaths of two elderly male inpatients one after another at Oguchi Hospital — now called Yokohama Hajime Hospital — in Yokohama, a nurse who was working at the time has been arrested.

She was arrested on suspicion of murdering one of the two patients. She is suspected of having mixed disinfectant into an intravenous drip.

The woman has admitted to murdering the other patient, too. A disinfectant ingredient has also been detected in the blood of two other patients who died there. Every one of the four patients was receiving treatment at inpatient wards she was in charge of. This is highly likely to be a case of serial murder.

As for motive, it is said she told police that she disliked seeing patients’ condition take a sudden turn for the worse and wanted them to die during her absence, that she felt it was troublesome to explain to families what happened when patients died, and that she was not good at explaining such things to them, either.

She has also explained that she timed the mixing of disinfectant into IVs by watching for an unguarded moment when, for instance, other nurses were away, making the rounds of wards. It is surmised that her action was premeditated.

If that is the truth, this is an abom-inable crime unworthy of those engaged in medical care.

Germitol, a disinfectant, is used for sterilization of medical tools and the like. It was kept in place at nurse stations, together with IV bags. It had been placed under such conditions that anybody involved in the hospital had access to it.

Kanagawa Prefectural Police announced in September 2016 that a patient had died from poisoning, due to a foreign substance that contaminated an IV. It was suspected from the start that the poisoning was an inside job. One of her colleagues witnessed her enter the ward alone where the patient died from poisoning.

Decipher a sign

Although there was no conclusive evidence that she committed the crime, the prefectural police made the decision to arrest her. The police should leave nothing to chance to substantiate her confession.

A crime prevention system inside hospital wards, where medicines and the like are handled, rests largely on the morals of doctors, nurses and others. Measures designed to prevent crimes from being committed by someone inside the hospital may thus have been rendered insufficient. The hospital, for its part, cannot avoid responsibility for having failed to prevent the incident.

Following the incident, this hospital, under the guidance of the city government of Yokohama, drummed into hospital staff the practice of locking up the storage spaces for medicines, while also installing more security cameras there. Other medical institutions should also check their safety measures.

Prior to the incident, information related to incidents at the hospital had been sent to the Yokohama city government, such as “a nurse’s apron having been cut up,” or “a nurse’s drink having been contaminated with a foreign substance.”

Yet the city government did not check with the hospital on the details of such reports. A third-party examination committee, set up by the city government, criticized the city government’s response, saying, “Even though there were such contents [in the reports] that have had a serious bearing on patients’ safety, the government fell down on the job.” Such criticism seems to have a point.

Any strange development at medical institutions, which are supposed to protect the lives of patients, should be responded to with alertness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 10, 2018)Speech


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