Stroke unit nurse who drugged patients for an ‘easy life’ is jailed for seven years

A nurse who drugged patients on a hospital stroke unit for an “easy life” and to “exercise contemptuous power” has been jailed for seven years and two months.

Catherine Hudson (pictured), 54, illegally sedated two patients at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and conspired with junior colleague Charlotte Wilmot, 48, to sedate a third.

Police were alerted by hospital chiefs in November 2018 after a student nurse on a work placement said Hudson suggested administering unprescribed zopiclone, a sleeping pill, to elderly patient Aileen Scott.

The whistleblower was further troubled when Hudson commented: “Well, she’s got a DNAR (do not attempt resuscitation) in place so she wouldn’t be opened up if she died or like if it came to any harm.”

She was said to be “shocked” when Hudson then took a strip of zopiclone from her tunic pocket and administered the sedative.

Zopiclone – a Class C controlled drug – was potentially life-threatening if given inappropriately to acutely unwell patients, Preston Crown Court heard.

Wilmot, who was also found guilty of encouraging “lead offender” Hudson to ill-treat another patient in her care, was imprisoned for three years.

Judge Robert Altham, Honorary Recorder of Preston, said: “The offences of ill-treatment were committed by these defendants whose duty was to protect and care for them.

“The patients were as vulnerable as anyone could be.

“These defendants exploited them for an easy shift, for amusement and to exercise contemptuous power over them.”

He said the whistleblowing nurse, who the prosecution had requested not be named, should be commended for her actions.

He said: “It was only as a result of her courage and sense of public duty that what was happening on the ward was exposed and stopped.”

Mrs Scott’s son, Brian, told the court on Wednesday that the “bravery” of the student nurse had “most likely saved my mum’s life”.

He said they had travelled from Glasgow to the seaside resort in October 2018 for a “well-earned break” to spend quality time together but Mrs Scott, 76, suffered a stroke in her hotel room which paralysed the left side of her body.

He said: “To this day my mum is fearful about going into hospital. Why? Because of the treatment she had received by Catherine Hudson and others at Blackpool.

“This will haunt us for the rest of our lives.”

Prosecutors said a “culture of abuse” was revealed on the unit when police examined WhatsApp phone messages between Band 5 nurse Hudson and Band 4 assistant practitioner Wilmot, along with other staff members.

Hudson wrote about one of her victims, Sheila Clarke: “I sedated one of them to within an inch of her life lol. Bet she’s flat for a week haha xxx.”

In a message exchange about an elderly male patient, who cannot be named for legal reasons, Hudson wrote: “I’m going to kill bed 5 xxx.”

Wilmot replied: “Pmsl (pissing myself laughing) well tonight sedate him to high heaven lol xxx.”

“Already in my head to give him double!!”

The next evening, Hudson messaged Wilmot: “If bed 5 starts he will b getting sedated to hell pmsfl. I’ll get u the abx (antibiotic) xxx.”

Later, Hudson wrote: “I’ve just sedated him lol he was gearing up to start (laughing emoji) xxx.”

Wilmot said: “Pmsl (tablet and hypodermic needle emojis) praise the lord Xxx.”

Sentencing, Judge Altham said: “To her (Wilmot) he was a nuisance, a troublemaker. Sedation was a cause of humour, satisfaction and ultimately celebration.”

Another set of messages between the friends showed an “antipathy” towards an elderly patient, Janet Westhead, and her daughter who vociferously complained about the level of care, the court heard.

Hudson posted: “R u actually kidding me?? Surely there’s no-one worse than her!! Which bay?? I’m in pink tonight, no dickheads had better b in there or they r being sedated (laughing emojis)!! Xxx.”

Wilmot replied: “Yeah very f****** annoying. Give her the best sleep she ever had pmsl (laughing emojis) xxx.”

Hudson said: “Permanently (laughing emojis) xxx.”

Hudson later wrote: “The whole family should f*** off back to Jockland.”

Judge Altham said it was “clear” both defendants felt contempt towards Mrs Westhead and her daughter, Susan Cheetham, both from Scotland.

He said: “Her illness was to be mocked and her vulnerability was to be exploited to give them an easy life.”

Giving evidence, both defendants denied all the allegations and claimed the private messages were “banter” and not supposed to be taken seriously.

They said the “gallows humour” was the venting of their frustrations at working in a chronically understaffed unit.

Mark Rhind KC, defending Hudson, said she had been full-time carer for her 91-year-old mother before she was remanded in custody in October after the jury verdicts.

He said: “Catherine Hudson’s great and realistic fear is that her mother will go into a home and will pass before she comes out of prison.

“That is something that causes her great distress.”

He said he could not ask the court to agree with her assertion that she was a “good person”, “good nurse” and “role model” but argued it could be accepted she is a person with good qualities.

Colleagues – including a senior consultant on the stroke ward – have variously described her as “very caring”, ”popular”, “good with patients” and “professional”, he said.

Hudson was found guilty by a jury of two counts of ill-treating Mrs Clarke and one count of ill-treating Mrs Scott by sedation.

She was convicted of conspiring with Wilmot to inappropriately sedate Mrs Westhead.

Hudson, of Coriander Close, admitted various offences of theft of drugs and medication from the hospital.

Wilmot, of Bowland Crescent, Blackpool, had admitted several offences of conspiracy to steal medication.

Hudson’s boyfriend, Marek Grabianowski, 46, pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiring with Hudson to steal zopiclone and medication. Together with Hudson, the dog groomer also admitted perverting the course of justice by disposing of evidence.

Grabianowski, of Montpelier Avenue, Bispham, who at the time was a band 7 nurse at Blackpool Victoria’s accident and emergency department, was jailed for 14 months.

Evidence during the trial highlighted the “dysfunctional” drugs regime on the stroke ward with free and easy access to controlled drugs and medication which led to “wholesale theft” by staff.

Nurses would also routinely carry zopiclone in their pockets, the court heard.

Following sentencing, Trish Armstrong-Child, chief executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I understand that people are feeling concerned about the evidence heard during this case and want further assurance as to the standard of patient care within the trust.

“We were deeply shocked by these offences, and the actions of these individuals in no way reflects our caring and compassionate colleagues, who continue to deliver high-quality care across the trust.

“The trust has however taken immediate action to further ensure patient safety within the trust.

“Those changes to working practices and culture have been delivered and continue to improve.

“As chief executive, I am committed to a range of actions to ensure the trust provides the very best care and treatment for all our patients and families, as well as a positive and supportive place for colleagues to be.”

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