Clinical update from the patient safety team: Ingestion of Superabsorbant polymer gel granules

Yellow kit bag

Superabsorbent polymer gel granules are widely used in health and social care, typically as small sachets placed in urine and vomit bowls.

On contact with liquid, the sachet opens and the granules almost instantaneously absorb, expand and solidify the liquid. This can protect patients’ bedding and clothing for their comfort and dignity, and reduce the risk of spills onto floors to prevent patients and staff slipping.

While their use is not required in routine infection control processes, they may help to manage bodily fluids from patients with some highly contagious conditions being managed in infectious disease units.

The gel granules are not toxic but if put in the mouth they will expand on contact with saliva, risking airway obstruction. Reports commonly involve confused patients, who may have mistaken the sachets for sweets, or sugar or salt packets. There have also been some incidents of ingestion as a method of self-harm.

While safety advice following previous fatalities focused on the need for individual risk assessment, recent incidents suggest this in insufficient to protect patients, as sachets intended for use by one patient have been picked up by others and many inpatient units have patients who are confused or at risk of self-harm.

Please adopt a systematic approach to decide how to use superabsorbent polymer gel granules.

The clinical update is available on East24. Please print it off and circulate it round stations.

If you have any further queries, please contact the clinical team.

Published 3rd August, 2017

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