Pain drugs stolen as patients in surgery
Patients’ painkillers were swapped with saline by a drug-abusing staff member while they were on the operating table at a major Queensland hospital, and may have escaped serious harm only because of the quick thinking of doctors and nurses.
A court has also heard Brisbane’s Mater Hospital knew Evan Leslie Kajewski was suspected of abusing the synthetic opioid fentanyl before the offences but allowed him to work unsupervised.
Patients were “at their most vulnerable” when Kajewski swiped syringes containing fentanyl and replaced them with a useless saline solution, Brisbane Magistrates Court was told.
“It involves innocent people who were put at risk by (Kajewski’s) actions,” prosecutor Maria Vassilakos said. “This was premeditated, a high level of deceit.”
Kajewski, 40, yesterday pleaded guilty to charges including stealing fentanyl from the Mater between February and May last year and possessing the drug.
One 33-year-old patient suffered physiological effects consistent with the drug switch, when her heart rate and blood pressure rose before an anaesthetist quickly obtained fentanyl from another theatre and stabilised her.
“It was the smart thinking and quick actions of the anaesthetist that ... potentially stopped (the patient) suffering any further consequences,” Ms Vassilakos said.
Another patient was a 21-yearold cerebral palsy patient who could not speak and was admitted for emergency surgery. In that case a nurse told Kajewski he was not rostered that day and noticed him changing gloves and acting oddly near the trolley, so syringes were replaced before surgery.
A third patient was a “vulnerable” 74-year-old who faced the risk of more serious consequences because of his age. Tests were done after the operation because a doctor suspected the patient was not administered fentanyl.
Kajewski’s solicitor Kate McArthur said the hospital knew of his mental-health issues and raised suspicions he was abusing opiates before the offending.
“They interviewed him ... over several meetings. They raised those suspicions and ultimately he was simply allowed to continue on in his role without supervision,” she said. “If appropriate steps had been taken, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this position.”
Kajewski, formerly a butcher, worked at the hospital for 18 months. He had suffered a marriage breakdown, entered a “toxic relationship”, developed anxiety and depression and started “selfmedicating” with fentanyl, the court heard. He had no criminal history and was now studying to become a primary school teacher.
Magistrate Judith Daley said it was a serious breach of trust and sentenced Kajewski to six months’ jail, to serve two months.
“He was educated in this area of anaesthetics so he well knew the risks the patients may have encountered. He was not, for example, a cleaner taking the fentanyl; he was a person who was trained in the area,” she said.
A Mater statement yesterday said it would “be a breach of Evan’s privacy to further discuss his personal circumstances”. Anaesthetic technicians were always supervised by a licensed practitioner, it said.