A Coroner’s court has heard that an elderly nursing home resident who was living with dementia drank undiluted cleaning fluid shortly before he died.

World War II veteran Murphy Maxwell, who was aged 88 at the time of this tragic incident, was found in his room in November 2014, with a burning mouth and a half empty bottle of cleaning fluid.

A Coroner’s inquiry is looking into what happened on the day of the incident, and whether the systems and procedures put in place since then at the aged care facility are adequate to protect vulnerable nursing home residents.

The inquest heard that staff took three hours to call an ambulance, though Mr Murphy’s condition was so serious that he died less than 24 hours later.

Testing on the liquid revealed the cleaning fluid had not been diluted, making it extremely toxic, particularly for a frail or vulnerable person such a Mr Murphy.

The inquiry heard that the cleaner denied taking the cleaning fluid into the room. She said she had only taken in a bottle of liquid used to get rid of ants.

A nurse told the inquiry she believed Mr Murphy had drunk between 10 ml and 20 ml of the liquid, and that she had called the poison information hotline.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident

Sadly, elderly people – more often those with some form of cognitive impairment such as dementia – can accidentally consume poison from time to time.

Earlier this year in the UK, an 85-year-old aged care resident drank cleaning fluid from a water jug, though it remains unclear how the jug came to be beside her bed.

At the recent Akolade Future of Australian Aged Care Conference, Marleina Fahey, Dementia Consultant, Baptistcare, said sometimes people living with young onset dementia have a compulsion to eat, and gave the example of a man who had taken a bite from a disinfectant bottle.

What do the standards say?

With this danger in mind, it is clear that aged care residences must do all they can to ensure that unsafe liquids – such as cleaning fluids, hand sanitiser, or insecticides – are never left unattended.

The Australian Aged Care Quality Standard 4.1 requires that “Management of the residential care service is actively working to provide a safe and comfortable environment consistent with care recipients’ care needs.”

Substances such as cleaning fluid or hand sanitiser left unattended would be considered a potential moderate risk in aged care facilities, and an opening for an accident to occur – and would make the  environment ‘unsafe’.

The inquiry continues.

Please note: the image used to illustrate this article does not represent actual people or events.

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