Nurse who stole prescription drugs from hospital is struck off register

Nurse admitted he exchanged drugs for cannabis

Mr Justice Peter Kelly made the strike off order on Monday against Gerard Thomas O’Connell. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

A nurse who stole prescription drugs from a Cork hospital and exchanged them for cannabis has been struck off the nursing register by the president of the High Court.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly made the strike off order on Monday against Gerard Thomas O’Connell, with an address at Hazelbrook, Spa Glen, Mallow, Co Cork, but said to have emigrated to Spain.

Mr O’Connell, on the general nursing register since 2012, had pleaded guilty at Cork District Court in November 2019 to eight separate counts of theft of prescription drugs, Xanax and Lyrica, from Mercy University Hospital (MUH), Cork, in October 2018. He was fined €450.

The matter had come to light on foot of a request to MUH by gardaí investigating alleged drug dealing of certain prescription medications in the Mallow area. The hospital provided information sought by gardaí and carried out an internal investigation during which it installed CCTV camera in a medication storeroom where Mr O’Connell was working for a short period in autumn 2018.


Mr O’Connell met with the hospital’s director of nursing later in October 2018 during which he discussed his arrest by gardaí, admitted he took medication from MUH, said he could not explain why he did so and apologised. He stated he had a problem using cannabis for a long time and had taken the prescription drugs to exchange them for cannabis.

He was suspended with pay and an internal disciplinary inquiry was held which led to his dismissal from the hospital in December 2018. Following a complaint by the hospital to the Nursing and Midwifery Board and Mr O’Connell’s conviction, the board decided in January last, at a meeting where it viewed CCTV evidence of October 6th 2018, his registration should be cancelled.

The board’s decision was communicated to Mr O’Connell via email and by post and no appeal was taken. The correspondence to Mr O’Connell’s postal address was returned marked “gone away”.

When the matter came before Mr Justice Kelly on Monday, Hugh McDowell BL, for the board, asked the court to confirm the strike off sanction. The board had decided the admitted offences involved a gross breach of trust and integrity and of the profession’s code of conduct and ethics, counsel said.

The judge said this, “sadly”, was the third case of dishonesty by a nurse which had come before the court in recent weeks. The other two cases had involved theft from patients and this involved theft from an employer.

Such matters were damaging to the well deserved reputation of the nursing profession, he said.

The status of the profession will be even higher because of the dependence we have now, and will have, on nurses in the coming days and this theft was “very regrettable”.

In his view, the strike off decision was the only decision the board could come to for gross acts of dishonesty and breach of trust. The theft of prescription medication to be subsequently used for bartering was “to be deprecated” and he would make the strike off order.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times