The nurse arrested in relation to the deaths of patients at a hospital in Stockport has been given a provisional trial date of next February 28.

Rebecca Leighton, 27, has been charged with criminal damage with intent to endanger life, as well as theft, after allegedly tampering with saline ampoules, saline bags and medical products at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

Leighton, from Buxton Road, Heaviley, appeared via video link at Manchester Crown Court today, only to confirm her name and that she could hear the proceedings clearly.

Police were called to the hospital after reports of "unexplained" low blood pressure in an unusually high number of patients.

Police are investigating the deaths of four patients; Tracey Arden, 44, Arnold Lancaster, 71, Derek Weaver, 83, and Vera Pearson, 84.

George Keep, 84, from Cheadle, is no longer part of the inquiry. His death on July 14 was initially thought to be suspicious.

Pathologists are yet to determine the exact cause of death for the four patients at the centre of the inquiry.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, said detectives intend to interview "several hundred" patients and staff.

He said: "The inquiry is very wide-ranging. There are a very large number of individuals who have been identified by the police to be interviewed."

He said that the current trial date, set for the end of February next year, must be seen as "very provisional" due to the nature of the investigation.

He added: "There are 600 exhibits that are also being examined in this case and a large number of documents that have been recovered from the hospital that are subject to examination, including patient records and also records in respect of the receipt, storage and subsequent use of various items."

The examination of each exhibit, along with the interview process, is expected to take some time.

Simon Csoka QC, defending, said: "The defendant is anxious that this matter be tried as quickly as possible."

Leighton faces three charges of criminal damage intending to endanger life, three charges of criminal damage being reckless as to whether life would be endangered and one charge of theft.

She has been remanded in custody ahead of a provisional trial on February 28 2012, but is next due to appear in court on 17 October for a plea and case management hearing.