THE family of an elderly woman who died after drinking an unknown liquid in hospital is demanding to know how such a deadly mistake could have been made in the NHS.

Joan Catherine Blaber from Lewes died at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton on September 23 after drinking an orange liquid believed to have been a cleaning product.

The 85-year-old widow had been admitted to the hospital in August following a suspected stroke and had remained on a ward to receive treatment for leg ulcers.

Brighton Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said the inquest would be delayed until the police investigation had been concluded.

The report of a forensic post mortem examination carried out on September 27 has still to be submitted.

Mrs Hamilton-Deeley said: “The cause of death will direct all the investigations which will take place by Sussex Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).”

Detective Inspector Julie Wakeford from Sussex Police told the inquest opening hearing: “Police were notified by the coroner and we have spoken to 75 members of staff and all people who were in direct contact with Mrs Blaber or attended the ward.

“We still have ten more staff and other patients to speak to.

“The investigation into Mrs Blaber’s death is being lead by police with the HSE and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

“We are leading at the moment because we are looking at a possible criminal investigation, but we may hand over to the CQC.”

In a statement issued by their solicitors, Mrs Blaber’s family said: “We welcome HM Coroner opening an inquest into her death.

“It is hoped the inquest will lead to a thorough investigation into the circumstances of what happened and an explanation as to how such a tragic mistake can have occurred in modern day healthcare, which the family believe resulted in Joan’s premature death.”

The CQC monitors, inspects and regulates services to make sure they meet fundamental standards of quality and safety.

It also publishes what it finds, including performance ratings to help people choose care.

Organisations are rated as outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate.

They are assessed on areas including care, leadership, safety and effectiveness.

The Royal Sussex is run by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The trust is also responsible for the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital and Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton as well as Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.