Mthatha, Eastern Cape -

Twelve nurses were sentenced to ten years' imprisonment or hefty fines for fraud in the Mthatha Regional Court on Friday, the Eastern Cape health department said.

Spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the nurses were convicted of charges related to fraud after R950,000 worth of medication, including Valium, was stolen or misappropriated from Mthatha General Hospital's casualty ward.

The medication went missing over a three-month period in 2010.

The nurses were ordered to pay back R80 000 each to the department within ten years.

They would remain in custody until they raised R20 000 each towards the fine.

Kupelo said the nurses used fictitious names, or the names of deceased patients, to claim the drugs from the hospital's dispensary. They claimed “pressure and under-staffing” led them to take the medicine under false pretences.

More nurses, managers and matrons from the same hospital were expected to be arrested soon for similar crimes. Investigations would be extended to hospitals in Port Elizabeth and East London.

Kupelo said the department felt vindicated by the sentences the nurses received.

The department had allocated millions of rands to purchasing medicine, but had still been confronted with shortages at clinics and hospitals. - Sapa