A coroner in Stafford, England has raised concerns about the dangers of ‘petrol-based emollient cream’ and re-iterated the need to raise awareness of this potentially fatal issue amongst healthcare professionals.
The call comes after the death of Maureen Milton a 74-year-old lady. Ms Milton sadly died from burns after her clothing caught fire.
On 18th April 2019, fire crews were called to Ms Milton’s flat. The flat was smoke-filled when the fire crew arrived and unfortunately, Ms Milton was found in her lounge. She had passed away and was found to have died from her burns.
Toxicology reports confirmed that the cause of death was burning and not smoke inhalation. It emerged that she had been trying to light a cigarette with a match when her clothing caught fire.
The coroner’s report found that there was evidence of ‘petrol-based emollient cream’ which had likely soaked into her clothing. This flammable element was found to have acted as an accelerant for the fire.
Sadly in July 2019, Ms Milton refused to have a smoke alarm fitted to her personal alarm and carers also raised safeguarding concerns about the fact that she was a heavy smoker and may, therefore, be at risk.
As part of the coroner’s report, a number of concerns were raised. Fire crews reported that they had been attending increased numbers of fires involving ‘mostly’ elderly people. These fires were often found to involve ‘petrol-based emollient cream’.
The report described the problem of these emollients, which are widely available over the counter. Over time the emollients soak into clothing and then present a fire hazard. In the event of any fire, the clothes will likely be engulfed in flames and the resultant death is likely to be due to burning rather than smoke inhalation.
The coroner made it clear that awareness of this serious issue amongst healthcare professionals needs to be better to prevent future recurrence.
The incident in 2019 involving Mrs Milton comes after a number of Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) alerts and warnings. This issue was raised by the MHRA back in 2008.
In April 2016 the MHRA issued an alert highlighting the dangers of paraffin-based emollients. The alert advised that smoking or a naked flame could cause patients’ dressings or clothing to catch fire when being treated with a paraffin-based emollient that is in contact with the dressing or clothing.
Please find the most recent MHRA alert here. This latest alert was issued in December 2018.
As a result of these warnings, the following advice for healthcare professionals was issued.
- Advise patients not to:
- Use naked flames (or be near people who are smoking or using naked flames).
- Go near anything that may cause a fire while emollients are in contact with their medical dressings or clothing.
- Change patient clothing and bedding regularly—preferably daily—because emollients soak into the fabric and can become a fire hazard.
- Incidents should be reported to NHS England’s Serious Incident Framework (includes Wales), or to the Health and Social Care Boards in Northern Ireland; for questions regarding alerts in Scotland, contact Healthcare Improvement Scotland.
You can read the full coroners report below and by clicking here. This information is subject to Crown Copyright and is being shared under the Open Government Licence.