A nurse who did 259 hours of overtime in just four months died from a drugs overdose in a hospital toilet, an inquest has heard.
Philip Pengson, 35, had been working flat-out during the pandemic and was apparently addicted to prescription painkillers.
Colleagues reported noticing changes in the theatre nurse and said he had started going missing for long periods during his shifts, often re-emerging looking dazed and with blood on his scrubs.
On January 20, at the height of the Covid lockdown, fellow nurses couldn’t find Mr Pengson on the ward.
Colleague Jessica Ubag told the hearing: ‘I noticed that he had disappeared again and I messaged him and called him but he did not answer the calls.
‘About 30 or 40 minutes went by and he came back to the emergency theatre. I explained I was worried about him and questioned him about why he had been gone such a long time.
‘He said to me “what do you think, that I am taking drugs or something?” He told me he felt burned out and wanted to be left alone. I could not do that as we have other people’s lives in our hands.’
Senior nurse Kristy Juinio, a friend and colleague of Mr Pengson’s, said Ms Ubag came to see her at around 6pm to say she could not find him again.
‘We checked the male locker room and there was a locked toilet cubicle,’ Ms Juinio told the hearing.
‘We knocked on the door and decided to wait 10 minutes to see if anyone came out.
‘However, a doctor came and told us we needed to open the door immediately. We forced open the door and found Philip collapsed.’
Ms Ubag added: ‘We found Philip and shouted to others to call for help. The crash trolley was wheeled into the changing room. I could see inside the changing room and saw Philip on the floor and saw them trying to resuscitate him. I was then told he had passed away.’
The inquest in Woking, Surrey, had earlier heard that the Philippines’ national had travelled to the UK to work at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford in 2017, leaving his wife and two young children behind.
His sister, Fatimah, who lives in the UK, told the hearing that he had admitted in 2017 that he had a problem with prescription drugs but he promised her that it was in the past.
The inquest heard that detectives investigating Mr Pengson’s death found five empty bottles of a powerful anaesthetic drug inside the nurse’s bedroom at the hospital’s nursing accommodation in Guildford.
The detectives found a further six bottles inside his rucksack in the toilet cubicle. However, they noted that the empty bottle Mr Pengson had apparently just used, was of a stronger concentration than the others they had found with him.
Julie Burgess, the divisional head of nursing for surgery at the hospital, admitted that the drug – which is used in almost all surgeries – was kept in a cupboard that could be easily accessed by all staff and did not require a key. It is now being kept locked away.
The coroner heard that a toxicological report prepared by John Slaughter found the level of the drug in Mr Pengson’s blood was high enough to cause his death and a post-mortem examination concluded the nurse had died from drug toxicity.
Concluding the inquest, coroner Anna Loxton said: ‘I have considered a conclusion of suicide, bearing in mind the method.
‘But there is no record that Philip intended to take his own life. However, he would have been aware of the risks bearing in mind his professional experience.’
She said it was ‘meaningful’ that the bottled he used on January 20 was of a higher strength than previously.
‘It raises the likelihood that he suffered an accidental drug-related death and it could have been the result of a tragic accident in this respect,’ she added.
‘I am going to record Mr Pengson’s death as a drug-related death.’
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