Pensioner dies after detergent drink error

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The Independent Online

A pensioner died and nine others were taken ill after a nurse at a private care home mistakenly gave them a toxic detergent to drink.

Six members of staff at the Lady Astor Court home in Slough, Berkshire, have been suspended while Thames Valley Police and the Health and Safety Executive investigate.

Philip Scott, managing director of Southern Cross Healthcare, which owns the residence, said the toxic fluid, a dishwasher rinse, was labelled but had been left on a drinks trolley where it was mistaken for blackcurrant cordial.

After swallowing the substance the women began to feel violently sick and several complained of a burning sensation in their mouths and stomachs. Joan Walters, aged 80, died.

Mr Scott said: "The two products, the dishwasher rinse and the blackcurrant drink, came in very similar packaging. The wrong container was on the drinks trolley. It was almost identical to the blackcurrant bottle. On consumption, two residents vomited and the nurse, realising the error, summoned an ambulance and medical services."

Two of the pensioners were said to be seriously ill last night at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough and three others were in a stable condition. Four did not need hospital treatment and stayed at the 76-bed home.

Mr Scott extended his sympathies to Ms Walters' family and the others affected but said he could not speculate on the incident further until a full investigation had taken place. "While the initial findings of an internal investigation conclude this was a tragic accident, no further conclusions can as yet be drawn," he added.

Slough Borough Council said it would not be placing further clients at the home for the time being as a precautionary measure. A spokeswoman said the council was assessing the need for alternative care of remaining residents and offered to relocate anyone who wished to move.

"Our main concerns are the residents and their families and we are working closely with the relevant agencies to see what support we may be able to provide," she said. "Although inspection of nursing homes is a health authority responsibility, we will be reviewing arrangements for current residents to see if we need to make alternative provisions for their care."

Roger Vincent, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, issued a warning underlining the importance of following safety advice when storing chemicals at home and the consequences of proper precautions not being taken.

"We do not know what has happened in this case, but our advice is to try to keep chemicals out of reach, high up or locked away," he said. "We advise against decanting chemicals into any other container. If you do that, the chances are that you may forget what is in the container. One of the worst cases I can remember is of a child who drank sulphuric acid out of a pop bottle that was left under a sink."

A post-mortem examination on Ms Walters was inconclusive. Further tests are being done.