Second patient ‘may have drank cleaning’ fluid at hospital

Joan Blaber
Joan Blaber

An inquest into the death of an elderly woman who died after drinking Flash cleaning fluid at a Brighton hospital, heard a second patient may have drunk toilet cleaner.

Daniel Gonzales, a housekeeper at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, was working on the Baily ward where 85-year-old Lewes woman Joan Blaber was being treated on the day of the incident.

At yesterday’s hearing (September 12), coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley asked him about a rumoured second incident: “There was a patient that nearly drank Flash?”

Mr Gonzales said: “I heard that. There used to be toilet cleaner on the previous trolley. I heard a story that a dementia patient had drank it. It is just a story, I’m not sure if it actually happened.”

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When asked for theories on how the Flash cleaning fluid could have made its way into a water jug on Mrs Blaber’s beside table, Mr Gonzales said: “It does not make any sense. Sometimes if someone on another ward has run out of Flash you would ask for the whole bottle, never put it in a jug you used for patients. If a manager sees you misusing the chemicals you could loss your job straight away.”

He explained that the Flash was kept in the cleaning cupboard, not the kitchen where water jugs are prepared.

“The Flash is not in the kitchen,” he said. “It was not ever in the kitchen and it is a really heavy bottle so not everybody will carry the bottle around.”

But he did admit that cleaning trolleys were left unattended, and that on although cleaning cupboards on wards were always locked, sometimes the code had been written on a note beside the door.

Miss Hamilton-Deeley asked: “It is suggested that there may have been instances where the code was written on the side of the cupboard.”

Mr Gonzales said: “Yes, unfortunately that is true.”

Statements from agency cleaners who cleaned the public areas but not the wards said a cleaning cupboard they used was not locked and they received no training.

Kayleigh Regan, who was working on the day of the incident, said: “No job sheets were provided and I received no induction. When I got to the hospital each time they would tell us what to do.

“I was asked to sign a document in relation to training. I signed that document without really reading it.

“I feel I did not receive adequate training from the hospital.”

Mrs Blaber, a retired shopkeeper and widow of Hoopers Close, died at the Royal Sussex County Hospital on September 23 last year. She was admitted to hospital on August 22 after suffering a minor stroke.

The inquest heard Mrs Blaber was given a drink which contained cleaning fluid mixed with a summer fruits cordial on September 17.

The cleaning fluid was in a ‘solid green’ jug, the inquest heard – which was one that was given to dementia patients under the hospital’s jug system – but that Mrs Blaber would usually be given a jug with a blue lid.

However, housekeeper Mr Gonzales said there was not enough jugs to go round, so the colour system was not always followed.

A post mortem recorded Mrs Blaber’s death as respiratory failure, after suffering pneumonia, caused by the ingestion of cleaning fluid.

The hearing at Jury’s Inn Brighton continues, and is expected to run for another week.