A staff nurse at the Mercy Hospital in Cork is facing allegations of professional misconduct, for ordering 713 pain relief tablets for her own personal use.

Johanna Leahy is appearing before a fitness to practise inquiry at the Nursing and Midwifery Board.

The inquiry has heard that Ms Leahy ordered Solpadeine for the Coronary Care Unit, where she worked, when it was not needed for patients.

Barrister, Neasa Bird, for the NMBI, said that in all 713 tablets were dispensed from the hospital pharmacy.

The period in question was January 2013 to March 2014. She said 288 tablets were later returned.

Staff nurse Mary Brosnan said she had concerns in around 2012 or 2013 regarding the ordering of Solpadeine on a regular basis by nurse Leahy, as it was not being used by patients.

Nurse Brosnan became worried that Ms Leahy might have had a problem with the drug.

As a result, she passed her concerns onto a more senior nurse.

She described Ms Leahy as an outstanding nurse, great in any emergency and both friendly and warm.

Edward Matthews, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, appearing for Ms Leahy, said that she admits to illegitimately ordering tablets and taking them for her own personal use.

He said that when the issue was raised in the hospital, nurse Leahy freely and publicly admitted her wrongdoing.

Mr Matthews said nurse Leahy posed no risk to patient safety, had fully cooperated with her employer and continued to work at the Mercy Hospital. She accepts it was professional misconduct.

He said the one issue of disagreement was the quantity of Solpadeine and that the 713 figure by the hospital was a guesstimate.

He said this is because no record system was in place to record returns at ward or pharmacy level.

When the inquiry resumed this afternoon, the Committee chairperson, Essene Cassidy said it has concerns about the real threat to patient and staff safety at the Mercy Hospital.

These concerns arose from oral and written evidence from the hospital, that there is still no pathway of traceability for drugs returned to the hospital pharmacy.

Ms Cassidy said the Committee had a legal responsibility to protect the public interest and asked to hear from the hospital about the issue.

Earlier, Mr Matthews said nurse Leahy, who was highly regarded, was ashamed and penitent and should be allowed to continue in practise.

The inquiry heard that she underwent occupational health support after the events and this process concluded that addiction was not an issue.

Ms Leahy suffered from headaches and sinus problems.

The inquiry has heard that nurse Leahy trained in the UK and started working at the Mercy Hospital in 1999 in the Intensive Care Unit.

She had a serious lung operation in 2011 and due to health issues, moved over to work in the coronary care unit. 

Martina Hughes, acting director of nursing at the Mercy Hospital, said concerns were raised by two nurses and brought to her attention in April 2014.

She said such an issue had never happened before and about 30 boxes of Solpadeine were unaccounted for.

Nurse Hughes told the inquiry that the coronary care unit had four beds and Solpadeine was not generally used for cardiology patients.

A review found no patients had been prescribed the drug.

Nurse Leahy admitted to ordering the drugs and a disciplinary process was set up.

She was given a written warning and allowed back to work, under certain conditions.

Nurse Hughes described Ms Leahy as an excellent and experienced nurse, who was very good at patient care.

Nurse Leahy told the inquiry she took the Solpadene to deal with physical pain.

She said she was very sorry, had engaged in gross misconduct and had let herself and the profession down.

She hoped the headache and sinus pain would be resolved, without having to take time off work.

Ms Leahy said she thought at first the Solpadene was a stock item.

She took it first from the hospital trolley for her own personal use and ordered it from the pharmacy, to replace the trolley drugs.

She said was taking between 8-10 tablets a month but denied it was ever closer to 30 tablets a month.

Ms Leahy said she had never done anything like this before, was married, had children and a mortgage to pay.

She said she loved nursing and was cooperating fully with the occupational health service.

She said everything was okay in her workplace now.

Ms Leahy said she is managing her health and that the last 16 months have been the hardest of her professional and personal life.

The inquiry has adjourned and the fitness to practise committee will begin its deliberations in the morning.