Prison care queried after inmate given wrong drugs

17:43, Apr 21 2013

Rimutaka Prison's willingness to care for its prisoners has been questioned after one fell into a coma for five days when he was given unsuitable medication, according to his lawyer.

Stephen McMurtrie, a serial offender who is serving a three-year sentence for possession of class A drugs for supply, dislocated his shoulder while working out in the gym in early February.

He was taken to Hutt Hospital and told he would need an operation, then prescribed medication before being sent back to prison.

After his prescription ran out, McMurtrie - who has serious liver problems - waited three days for a replacement script and was given ibuprofen and the anti-inflammatory drug Voltaren as pain relief by prison medical staff in the interim.

He says he was given no instructions with the drugs or told that he should not take Voltaren on an empty stomach.

A few days later he began to feel unwell and was unable to get out of bed, so a fellow inmate carried him to the medical bay. He then collapsed, vomiting three litres of black blood on to the floor.


McMurtrie then lapsed into a hepatic coma, which is caused by liver failure.

He required two blood transfusions and was comatose for five days, spending three weeks in hospital, most of it in intensive care.

It is understood hospital staff contacted the prison after McMurtrie's collapse, concerned about the medication given to him, but a Hutt Hospital spokeswoman told The Dominion Post it was unable to comment because of patient privacy.

Speaking through his lawyer, Keith Jefferies, McMurtrie said he spent two weeks on his return to prison in the medical centre before returning to his normal unit.

During his time in hospital he lost more than 20kg and was still unwell, having lost a further 20kg.

"I look like a bag of bones, I look like a big old bull due to go to the knacker yard."

McMurtrie was also upset about the length of time it took the prison to contact his family after he was admitted to hospital, saying it was several weeks before they were informed.

His former partner, whom he has children with, confirmed she found out about his illness from her brother, who is also a prisoner.

Mr Jefferies described the treatment as a "blatant and reckless" disregard for inmate safety.

Corrections had clear policies in place for the treatment of patients with health problems, so serious questions needed to be asked about what had happened, he said.

"He basically gets tortured by not getting the proper treatment, and you have to wonder if the prison is using a form of euthanasia."

In a written statement, Corrections Department offender health director Bronwyn Donaldson said McMurtrie received appropriate care and his medical records showed he was given his medication as prescribed. The department was funded to provide primary health service to prisoners that was "reasonably equivalent" to that accessed by the general community.

Questions regarding Hutt Hospital concerns about McMurtrie's medication went unanswered, and a spokeswoman said his family were not initially contacted because of privacy matters and because his initial prognosis was not of a "serious nature".


January 2013: A female guard is suspended after allegations of accepting cash to deliver an item to a prisoner.

November 2012: A guard suffers a fractured skull after being king-hit from behind by a prisoner.
■ Guards forget about a high-security inmate and his partner during a visit, locking them in the building after knocking off early.
■ One guard quits and another is suspended after allowing a prisoner they were guarding in hospital to order pizza from their cellphone.

June 2012: A warden is admitted to hospital with serious head injuries after going to the aid of a prisoner being assaulted by other inmates.

June 2011: Former guard Johan Edwin Clarke is sentenced to more than two years' jail for accepting cash, prostitutes and expensive wine in return for smuggling items into prison. 

The Dominion Post