By LAUREN CROOKS
A NURSE is facing being struck off after she was caught stealing controlled drugs from the care home she worked at – claiming she took them for help with back problems.
Mary Anne Harper, 57, was caught when colleagues noticed a shortfall in Diazepam tablets at the Grange Care Home in Bo‘ness, West Lothian.
After a series of checks which showed the drugs only seemed to disappear during her shifts, Harper admitted to bosses that she had been taking them for her own use.
Harper kept her job as staff nurse at the 55-bed care home – and bosses urged her to seek help from her GP and get counselling for what they considered to be a drink problem.
But just over a year later, drugs started to go missing again – this time painkillers Dihydrocodeine and Co-Dydramol – and Harper admitted she had been at it again.
She suspended and later dismissed from her job at the care home for the elderly – now known as Nightingale Grange.
Yesterday, a panel of the competence and conduct committee of the Nursing and Midwifery Council found her guilty of dishonestly removing Diazepam, and taking 19 Dihydrocodeine tablets and 10 Co-Dydramol tablets.
At the hearing in Edinburgh, her former colleagues told of their discovery that someone was stealing drugs.
Ian Milne, a former manager of the care home, said that the first thing he knew about missing drugs was when senior staff nurse Evelyn Miles informed him.
He said: “In the middle of December 2005, it was brought to my attention by Evelyn Miles that there seemed to be Diazepam tablets not accounted for.
“This was the first I became aware that there was an issue. I asked senior nursing staff to conduct a check of the medications over a two to three week period so I could work out when it was happening and who if anyone was responsible.
“Over the period it became evident that it was only happening when staff nurse Mary Harper was on duty.
“We are looking at something in the region of 15 – 30 tablets went missing during the three-week period.”
Evelyn Miles – who discovered the shortfall in the tablets while she carried out the duty of checking the delivery from the pharmacy – added: “I count the tablets. There was a discrepancy which I noted and reported. It was about half a strip that was missing which is around 14 tablets.”
Harper was invited by Mr Milne to an internal disciplinary hearing at which stage the nurse fully admitted her involvement.
Harper was allowed to keep her job – but Mr Milne urged her to get help and put support mechanisms in place which Harper agreed to.
But just over a year later – when Mr Milne was no longer managing the care home and his former deputy Elizabeth Colston had stepped in – drugs started to go missing again.
Again it was Mrs Miles who noticed the problem – this time with missing Dehydracodiene.
She said: “I checked the notes to see if anything had been lost or the bottle had been dropped. I was shocked to be honest because I remember I noticed the missing drugs on a Monday and I could remember using the same bottle on the Friday and it was so full that I almost spilled it everywhere. Now there were approximately 48 tablets not accounted for.”
Mrs Colston said she carried out similar checks to previously held by Mr Milne and found similar results – the drugs only seemed to disappear on Harper’s shifts.
So Harper was suspended on full pay, attended a disciplinary hearing where she admitted taking the drug, and was eventually dismissed.
Mrs Colston said: “Mary needed help and that was obvious for a while. She had a great deal of problems, she had a drink problem,
She also had bad shakes and we think she was taking the drugs to stop herself shaking.
“When she was on shift she liked doing the drug rounds because she didn’t like being out on the floor, so she used to ask to do them.
“When I invited her to my office to suspend her, she said there was no point in trying to deny it and she said ‘I hold my hands up’.
“She told me that every time she had taken drugs, she told herself it was the last time. But it never was.”
But the panel were also read a written statement from William Cullen who was an administrator at the home during the issues with Harper.
In it he said: “Mary admitted to taking the drugs and when asked for an explanation she stated she had severe back pain and her doctor was not prescribing her anything.”
The hearing continues.