Second patient could also have drunk cleaning fluid, inquest hears

A second patient may have drunk cleaning fluid in the same hospital where an elderly woman died after consuming Flash, an inquest heard.

Joan Blaber died six days after drinking the branded floor cleaner while she was being treated in the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton last year.

The 85-year-old, of Lewes, East Sussex, had been admitted with a minor stroke on August 22, but her condition worsened after she drank the detergent on September 17 after it was left in a water jug on her bedside table in the Baily ward. She died on September 23.

When the inquest resumed on Wednesday, Brighton and Hove Coroner’s Court heard how before Mrs Blaber died, staff were told another patient drank toilet cleaner.

Housekeeper Daniel Gonzales, who was working on a nearby ward but also sometimes helped with the breakfast service in Mrs Blaber’s ward, said: “Apparently the patient, who had Dementia or something like that, took it and drank it.

“It’s just a story, I’m not sure if it was true.”

Giving evidence, he suggested it may have been to “worry” staff into taking safety seriously.

Codes for secure storage cupboards where chemicals were kept were sometimes written on the wall next to them, he said, although he did not believe this was the case in Mrs Blaber’s ward.

Asked how he thought Flash was found in a patient’s water jug, he said: “It doesn’t make any sense to me and my colleagues. We have been talking about it.

“No-one would pour the product into a jug you normally use for patients.”

He said there were strict rules for staff about using cleaning products, and if they made a mistake they would have “definitely” have lost their job.

Senior coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said this was “worrying” as it suggested it was “highly unlikely” the incident was an error.

The hospital had a system of using different types of water jugs to identify the needs of patients. On the day Mrs Blaber drank the liquid, she was given the wrong colour jug, the inquest previously heard.

Relatives told how a housekeeper took away Mrs Blaber’s clear water jug in the afternoon and replaced it with a solid green one with the same colour lid shortly after – meaning no-one could see the liquid inside.

Mr Gonzales said there were often not enough water jugs for each patient.

Meanwhile, cleaners employed by the agency Green Mop claimed they were not given formal training by the hospital during their shifts.

Ashley Le May, who was part of a team tasked with cleaning communal areas on the day in question, said he had to carry a container of Flash through the wards to get to other parts of the building as it was too big to fit on the trolley. But they were told not to clean the wards.

Giving evidence, he added: “At no point did we stop and at no point did the bottle of Flash leave its cardboard box.”

The protocol was to keep chemicals in cupboards and decant into a bucket as necessary, the inquest heard.

His colleague Kayleigh Regan was excused from attending the inquest on medical grounds, but in a statement said she was “surprised” there was “no real structure” to cleaning and claimed she received “no official training” from the hospital.

Mrs Blaber could have lived a few months to a “couple of years” longer if she had not drunk the detergent, consultant pathologist and medical examiner Doctor Mark Howard estimated.

He added: “Could Joan have suddenly died without the detergent incident? Yes.

“I’m not saying she would have definitely been alive in 2019.”

But Doctor Alex Harrison (pictured), an intensive care consultant at the hospital, said she was in the “last year of her life”.

He faced questions over the decision to move her from the high dependency unit to the stroke ward at midnight by taking her outside to move between two hospital buildings.

The inquest previously heard she had pneumonia when she died.

Asked if this could have contributed to her death, Mr Harrison said: “She would have still deteriorated the following morning and Joan would have still died.”

He also said he did not believe the presence of pain killer patches – which were removed seven days later than planned – could have caused her symptoms of confusion.

The coroner dismissed a juror from the proceedings after it emerged he had researched the case despite being told not to. The jury is now reduced to 10 people – six women and four men.

The inquest, taking place at the Jury’s Inn hotel near Brighton Station, continues on Thursday.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Matthews / PA Wire.