National / Crime & Legal

Police suspect inside job in fatal drip poisonings at Yokohama hospital

Kyodo

Police increasingly suspect that the killing of two patients at a hospital in Yokohama may have been conducted by a person connected with the facility and with medical knowledge, investigative sources said Thursday.

The person may also have randomly sought to tamper with intravenous drips because some 10 unused drip bags were found with small holes, in a possible sign someone tried to inject into them surfactant compound, which police believe was used to kill the two patients.

A week has passed since the police began a full-fledged investigation into the cases that took place at Oguchi Hospital, but who and for what reason the intravenous drips had been tampered with remain a mystery.

Sources said the hospital has recorded the deaths of 46 more inpatients since July who had stayed on the fourth floor where the two victims were.

There were some days around mid-August and mid-September when four or five people died, but Oguchi Hospital could not confirm any hospital infections and thought the reason was because it had been accepting more seriously ill patients, the sources said.

The hospital in Yokohama’s Kanagawa Ward has 85 beds and specializes in internal medicine, orthopedics and rehabilitation for the elderly. It has also been accepting more patients in the terminal phase of their illnesses.

Police will investigate the deaths of the patients but are unlikely to be able to specify the causes because many of the bodies have already been cremated.

“We see many people pass away due to the nature of this hospital, but had the impression that the number of those dying was increasing a bit,” a hospital official said.

It was not immediately known how the figures compare with deaths in other hospitals catering to patients with similar diseases or at a similar stage of life.

The hospital first alerted the police about the possibility that intravenous drips had been tampered with on Sept. 20. The police have so far determined that two 88-year-old male patients — Nobuo Yamaki and Sozo Nishikawa — were poisoned to death.

Investigators did not notice holes on the intravenous drip bags the two patients had used, but they discovered holes in the seals on the rubber plugs in about 10 of the 50 unused bags kept at a nurses’ station on the fourth floor of the hospital.

A nurse who works at a hospital in Tokyo told Kyodo News that expertise is needed to inject chemicals into drip bags, while an investigative source said, “It’s difficult to imagine a situation that an outsider entered the nurse station and tampered (with the drip bags).”

The two patients died around the three-day weekend that began on Sept. 17 and when the number of hospital staff on duty was less than usual. At night, the entrance to the hospital was locked with security guards on duty to prevent outsiders from entering.

Surface acting agents are widely used in hospitals as disinfectants but can be poisonous to the human body and are not allowed to be administered orally.