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Statistical Analyses in the case of an Italian nurse accused of murdering patients
  • Richard D. Gill,
  • Francesco Dotto,
  • Julia Mortera
Richard D. Gill

Corresponding Author:gill@math.leidenuniv.nl

Author Profile
Francesco Dotto
Università di Salerno
Julia Mortera
Università Roma Tre


Suspicions about medical murder sometimes arise due to a surprising or unexpected series of events, such as an apparently unusual number of deaths among patients under the care of a particular nurse. But also a single disturbing event might trigger suspicion about a particular nurse, and this might then lead to investigation of events which happened when she was thought to be present. In either case, there is a statistical challenge of distinguishing event clusters that arise from criminal acts from those that arise coincidentally from other causes. We show that an apparently striking association between a nurse's presence and a high rate of deaths in a hospital ward can easily be completely spurious. In short: in a medium-care hospital ward where many patients are suffering terminal illnesses, and deaths are frequent, most deaths occur in the morning. Most nurses are on duty in the morning, too. There are less deaths in the afternoon, and even less at night; correspondingly, less nurses are on duty in the afternoon, even less during the night. Consequently, a 1 full time nurse works the most hours when the most deaths occur. The death rate is higher when she is present than when she is absent.