A senior nurse has been arrested and a major investigation launched after 80 bottles of morphine were tampered with at a hospital.
Colleagues looked on in horror as the health worker, named locally as David Bamford, 46, was led away by police.
They had been called in after checks found morphine bottles had been opened then resealed.
Mr Bamford, a former Army medic, has not been seen at the hospital since he was taken in for questioning.
A source said: “This is being taken very seriously. Bosses have ordered an investigation from top to bottom.”
The phials had their tops snapped off before the powerful painkiller – sometimes stolen from hospitals to be used by addicts – was removed and replaced with water.
The tips were said to have been stuck back on with superglue at the Emersons Green Treatment Centre in Bristol.
The centre treats patients who need hip replacements and other painful orthopaedic surgeries.
Sources said staff were shocked at the arrest of Mr Bamford, who has worked there since it opened in 2009 and lives in Wickwar, Gloucestershire. He was arrested on June 24 and questioned before being freed on bail.
It is understood there has been a thorough examination of a staff changing facility and toilet for traces of the drug and adhesive. Other staff have had hair samples, which could be tested for traces of drugs, as part of the investigation.
Bamford’s profile on the networking website LinkedIn says he was educated at the University of Plymouth and was in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He is an operating department practitioner, responsible for making sure operations are safe.
Emerson Green is a private hospital which is contracted to operate on NHS patients. It is run by Care UK, which was criticised for making a donation to Andrew Lansley when the Tory MP was shadow health secretary before the 2010 election.
In March, Care UK was among 11 private firms selected for the biggest-ever NHS privatisation contract, a £780million deal to do operations, X-rays and scans.
Avon and Somerset Police said: “We can confirm a 46-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of theft from a centre in Emersons Green.”
Care UK said: “We can confirm a member of staff reported what they believed to be an attempt to access a small number of ampoules of a controlled drug. The centre strictly follows national guidelines and, as a result of these procedures, there is no suggestion whatsoever that any patient has come to harm.
“As a precaution and to ensure patient safety, all stocks of the same drug at Emersons Green and all other Care UK treatment centres were carefully checked and found to be unaffected.”
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