A midwife who died of an overdose in the toilet of a Perth maternity hospital probably pilfered a strong painkiller from a patient, the coroner’s court has heard.
Coroner Barry King is presiding over an inquest into the deaths of two health workers at King Edward Memorial Hospital and Royal Perth Hospital, both from apparent accidental overdoses of drugs taken from their workplaces.
Hayley Fisher, 27, died on December 14, 2009 after injecting a massive dose of the powerful painkiller fentanyl during a shift at King Edward, WA’s only public maternity hospital.
The court heard Ms Fisher had the opportunity to take the Schedule 8 restricted drug from an administration device in a patient’s room as they slept.
“It was very simple to have done it,” counsel assisting the coroner Marco Tedeschi said.
While Ms Fisher was being treated for depression and anxiety following the death of her mother, she had not been prescribed fentanyl and there was no evidence to suggest she had obtained the drug on a prior occasion at the hospital - none was found to be missing - or from friends.
“She must have gone into that room on that particular shift,” Mr Tedeschi said.
The court heard Ms Fisher had previously used her mother’s oxycontin and was struggling to adjust to anti-depressant medication, suffering mood swings.
That behaviour suggested she was self-medicating in a bid to cope, and the fact she sought treatment for depression indicated she was not suicidal, Mr Tedeschi said.
“These are the steps of someone who wants to keep living,” Mr Tedeschi said, although he acknowledged anti-depressants could have serious side effects on mood.
“I think she just felt terrible but wanted to feel better and didn’t give it a lot of rational thought, I suspect.”
The court also heard from the Health Department of Western Australia’s assistant director of ethical standards Shayne Sherman, who said improved controls may be introduced for the anaesthetic propofol, which caused the death of 39-year-old Royal Perth Hospital theatre nurse Craig Doherty in June 2010.