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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 December, 2003, 10:38 GMT
Paramedic held in funeral scam
By Adam Easton
BBC, Warsaw

A 36-year-old Polish paramedic has been charged with killing a patient in order to sell her body to a funeral parlour.

The case is the latest development in a grisly scandal which has shocked the nation.

The paramedic is charged with killing a woman with an injection
Some medical workers in the central city of Lodz have been accused of taking bribes in order to guarantee funeral parlours first access to dead bodies.

Polish investigators are re-examining up to 5,000 suspect deaths in the affair.

The paramedic, whose full name has not been released, was charged with killing the female patient by injecting her with a powerful muscle relaxant in January 2001.

He was also charged with accepting more than $5,000 in bribes and forging 18 prescriptions for the drug. Up until his arrest last Friday, the suspect had been working for an ambulance crew in the central city of Lodz.

The scandal, which first came to light in January last year has shocked Poland and undermined public confidence in the nation's healthcare system.

Skin hunters

The grisly practice is known as skin-hunting. In order to supplement their salaries - an average paramedic is paid $200 a month - ambulance crews would report deaths by telephone to funeral parlours to guarantee them first access to the bodies.

Then claims emerged that some paramedics had even induced death by injecting the drug which hindered breathing in critically ill patients.

The day after the scandal broke, ambulance calls in Lodz dropped by a half and paramedics have received death threats.

Some estimates say the practice could have started as early as 1990.

In June prosecutors charged another paramedic with killing two patients. Both men face life imprisonment if found guilty.

'Patients left to die' in Poland
25 Jan 02  |  Europe
Country profile: Poland
14 Dec 03  |  Country profiles

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