False drug allegations pushed nurse to brink of suicide

A TOOWOOMBA solicitor has questioned the duty of care provided to Queensland Health staff when speaking on behalf of a client nurse who admitted to stealing medication and medical equipment from Toowoomba Hospital.

Toowoomba Advocacy and Support Centre (TASC) solicitor Joe Millican told Toowoomba Magistrates Court his client had been driven to attempt suicide after receiving what he termed as "egregious treatment" from her employer.

The woman, whose name has been withheld out of respect for her privacy as she fights serious mental health issues, was found unconscious at her Toowoomba home one April night last year.


Found at the woman's home were 15 vials of the anaesthesia drug propofol and syringes for administering it, which the registered nurse later admitted having taken from Toowoomba Hospital.

She pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing as a servant.

Mr Millican told the court his client had battled depression since her teenage years when she was bullied at school.

Notwithstanding that, she had studied to become a nurse and by all accounts she was an excellent nurse, he said.

However, she had been driven to despair after being falsely accused of taking medication from Toowoomba Hospital in the lead-up to her suicide attempt, Mr Millican submitted.

The medication involved in the allegations was quite different from the medication she ultimately took.

Police called into investigate the matter had searched his client's home and had found no such medication or evidence to support the allegations, he said.


His client had initially been suspended with pay but since February had been suspended without pay.

She had come to the conclusion that if she was being accused of stealing medication then she might as well do that, he said.

"The hospital drove her to do the very thing they accused her of," Mr Millican said.

Mr Millican referred to the recent coronial inquest into the overdose death of Toowoomba Hospital critical care nurse Katie Lee Howman who died after injecting herself with a fatal dose of the opioid Fentanyl at her home on December 21, 2013.

Mr Millican submitted, in his opinion, the hospital had failed to properly look after its staff, many of whom worked in a "very stressful" environment with access to a wide range of medications.

His client had initially spent time in hospital after taking the medication but had since been receiving counselling and treatment voluntarily and continued to do so with the strong support of her husband who was in court, he said.

She had no previous convictions of any kind and had fully co-operated with police, he said.

Acting Magistrate Roger Stark said he accepted the 12 months the matter had taken to get to court would have been "quite stressful" for the woman who, by psychological and psychiatric reports tended to the court, and a report from her GP, told of a major depressive illness.

Without recording a conviction, Mr Stark placed the woman on a 12-month good behaviour bond.

After the court hearing, the woman approached The Chronicle to say she hoped one day to return to nursing.

"I just wanted to say how grateful I am for the help of TASC and Mr Millican," she said.

"I hope to work again as a nurse and the (court) outcome this morning will help with that."

In a statement issued late yesterday, Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service executive director (workforce) Michael Metcalf said the service did not publicly discuss details of individual's court cases.

"However, the Queensland public service has a code of conduct, and legislation such as the Crime and Corruption Act, which are very clear it is always wrong to steal," he said.

"The Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service does not condone or encourage theft."

If you need help or support contact Lifeline on 131114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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