A nurse who put patients at risk when she altered medical records to steal morphine from Lincoln County Hospital has been given a suspended jail sentence.
Kimberley Cooper, 39, forged the signatures of other staff and falsified morphine entries relating to 20 patients over 40 different occasions.
The thefts were discovered after stock records showed seven ampoules of the powerful painkiller had gone missing from the ward where Cooper worked in just one day.
A jury heard Cooper started stealing morphine within a month of taking up a post on Branston Ward at Lincoln County Hospital.
It was her first position as a qualified nurse after gaining a first class honours degree in nursing from Nottingham University while training with the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust.
Passing sentence Judge Andrew Easteal told Cooper she had done “awful damage” to her profession and was only escaping prison because of her family situation and the age of the offences.
The court heard Cooper, who now faces being struck off, was the sole carer for her two children after her husband passed away while she was on bail for the case.
Sentencing her to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, Judge Easteal told Cooper: “What you would cherish as a nurse is the reputation of your profession, and you have done that awful damage.
“What you did was to put patients at risk, there is no evidence any of the 20 or so were harmed, but you and I know the risk. At the very least patients could have been prevented from having pain killing medication that they needed.
“Imagine patients reading about this case who were on the ward at that time ”
Cooper, of Ruskington, Lincs, had denied stealing morphine and falsifying the ward’s controlled drug register in which details of the drugs given to patients were recorded.
But a jury at Lincoln Crown Court found Cooper guilty of four forgery charges, theft of the morphine and possessing a Class A drug.
Justin Wigoder, prosecuting, told the jury Cooper had become reliant on morphine following her own medical problems and was stealing it for herself.
Mr Wigoder said Cooper began “abusing her position” while working on a gynaecology ward at Lincoln County Hospital between October 2013 and July 2014.
“Nurses are in a position of trust in a variety of ways, one of those is to make sure patient records are accurate,” Mr Wigoder told the jury.
“What can be proved to have happened by a handwriting expert and other evidence, is that Miss Cooper had been falsifying, forging and altering patient records and the hospital’s drugs books.
“She is doing that because she is stealing the morphine, most likely for herself.”
Mr Wigoder said morphine is so powerful that it is classified under the Dangerous Drugs Act as a Class A drug which puts it on the same level as heroin, crack and cocaine.
“It follows that hospitals which use morphine as pain relief have to keep it very securely and have a number of checks and balances in place to ensure that is carefully controlled,” Mr Wigoder added.
The court heard Cooper was a nurse on Branston Ward at Lincoln County Hospital, a gynaecology ward whose patients did on occasions require morphine for pain relief.
Mr Wigoder said all transactions relating to morphine sulphate required two signatures from the nurse who drew up the medication and another witness, and were recorded in the ward’s Controlled Drugs Record Book.
“If you are going to steal morphine you need to make quite a lot of false entries,” Mr Wigoder told the jury.
Mr Wigoder said “it was significant” that there were no alterations in the drugs record books when Cooper was on sick leave between April 20 and July 7, 2014.
“The simple fact is that while she is off alterations don’t appear in the books,” Mr Wigoder added.
The jury heard Cooper falsified three morphine entries for one patient who had already been discharged from the hospital.
“Fairly obviously you can’t give drugs to someone who is no longer in hospital,” Mr Wigoder said.
On another occasion records showed a female patient was prescribed 45 milligrams of morphine when she in fact received just 20 milligrams.
A doctor also said he would only prescribe individual morphine doses of ten milligrams and that any doses of 15 milligrams in his name would have been forged, the jury heard.
The morphine stock records were checked after seven ampoules were found to be missing at the end of the day on July 14, 2014.
Mr Wigoder told the jury: “From the November 11 2013 until July 14 2014 with the gap I have told you about (when Mrs Cooper was off sick) the records in relation to 20 different patients have been forged and over 40 different occasions.
“In total 430 milligrams of morphine were stolen.”
Mr Wigoder added: “This is where the real harm of the case comes, because any doctor or any nurse looking at that patient would not know that medication had not been proscribed.”
Cooper was initially arrested on July 15, 2014.
Mr Wigoder said: “She denied any part in this and said on some of the days she had not been at work.”
He told the jury although this may have been correct on some occasions, she would have been at work the following day.
“We can show she had the opportunity to alter the records and steal the morphine,” Mr Wigoder said.