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Over 1,000 ‘dehydration deaths’ in care homes


More than 1,000 care home residents in England and Wales died of thirst or while suffering from severe dehydration over the past decade, it was reported.

Figures obtained by the Daily Telegraph showed that 1,158 care home residents suffered dehydration-related deaths from 2003 to 2012.

According to the newspaper, dehydration was noted on death certificates as either the main cause of death or a contributory factor.

Some 318 care home residents died from starvation or when severely malnourished over the same period, and 2,815 deaths were related to pressure ulcers.

The data was obtained from the Office of National Statistics under freedom of information laws.

The figures showed that more people died while dehydrated last year than when the coalition came to power in 2010, but the number was lower than the 2006 peak.

Charities warned that an improvement in training for care home staff was necessary to look after patients.

Dr Alison Cook, director of external affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It makes you sick to the stomach that you are handing your loved ones over with even the remotest possibility they could starve to death or die of thirst.

“There is a real need for better training for those who are looking after elderly and vulnerable people. But even more important is allowing people the time to really care for someone.”

In October the health and social care watchdog announced that hidden cameras and ”mystery shoppers” reporting back on their experience of services could be used as part of measures to prevent abuse and neglect in care homes.

Andrea Sutcliffe, the new chief inspector of adult social care, said there was a need for a ”proper conversation” about the use of hidden cameras after the move was raised with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Care and support minister Norman Lamb said: “Failings of care that may contribute to people being malnourished or dehydrated are entirely unacceptable.

“The law requires that care homes must ensure residents receive enough to eat and drink and we expect the Care Quality Commission to take swift action when this is not the case.

“We want everyone to get better care, which is why the CQC are bringing in new rules so that it can crack down on poor care more effectively and why we’re taking action so that company directors will be personally responsible for the quality of care their organisation provides.”


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Readers' comments (6)

  • So an average of 100 dehydration related deaths per year occur across (a conservative estimate of) over 17000 care homes and suddenly we are all painted as delivering poor basic care?
    This article is nonsensical scaremongering. Why is the Nursing Times colluding in this demonisation of nurses?

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  • I'm pretty sure an elderly relative of mine died partly due to malnutrition and dehydration, but she was in hospital. No fault of anyones, she was unable to eat and drink, and IVs would have been impossible as she kept rolling in her bed and would have pulled them out. So contributing factor - yes. But in no way preventable. How many cases like this has that survey found? Not fair imo.

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  • michael stone

    I think this is quite complicated - lots of people stop eating as they die, but I don't believe that anyone 'should be dying thirsty'.

    Of course, if the suggestion is that people were dying 'before their time' because staff were [deliberately] witholding food and drink which the patients would have eaten/drunk, then that is another matter and looks like abuse. So does 'just dropping a tray of food in front of someone who needs help to eat it' look like abuse.

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  • On LCP they ALL die thirsty! The Mental Capacity Act allows for food/drink to be stopped if treatment is stopped, on the authority of the Advocate, so yes, many have, and will die prematurely unless something is done to make sure fluids and nutrition is NOT classed as treatment. BMA declared artificial hydration and nutrition to be "Treatment" following Tony Bland court case, which allowed staff to remove the naso-gastric tube, so that he would die. He was not dying, though in a "Locked-in state" and he only had a naso-gastric tube. No big deal to keep him alive, but it was an excuse to do away with long term bed-fillers. Shame on us for going along with it. Nursing Models put it clear enough, Hydration, Nutrition, mobilisation, continence- all basic needs of life and nursing responsiblities to bring as near as pos to perfection

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  • FFS Nursing Times.
    Be more careful about what 'stories' you print.

    Print stories with facts and a balanced view - you should be capable of it.

    Stop going for sensational doesn't suit you - especially when you quote 'facts' that are just ideas (that are hotly debated and full of holes and opinions - CQC using hidden cameras...c'mon!)

    Don't try to 'spark a debate' by trying to play devils advocate. We are old enough to give our thoughts and viewpoints, without NT trying to sound all cool and that..

    You are Nurses, not reporters. should be Nurses, seeing as you are 'Nursing Times'...

    People who die thirsty...sometimes they are not awake enough to manage food, drink, speech etc... so if they don't have IV lines up (ala Care homes) then of course dehydration is a factor.
    It may not be the only factor, but its a factor.

    NT needs to up its game, or lose some of the dross of 'reporters' or 'sources' of stories.

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  • michael stone

    sally carson | 2-Dec-2013 9:10 pm

    ARTIFICIAL hydration or feeding - which is to say something you 'do to the patient' as opposed to something you 'offer to' (such as a drink of water) the patient - is necessarily treatment for the purposes of the MCA (to be more accurate, it is an intervention which without consent would be an assault - it is often easier to think in terms of interventions rather than 'treatments' when working through the law for this).

    I'm puzzled by what you mean re 'on the authority of the Advocate' ? I'm puzzled by what you mean by 'Advocate' - and although the MCA does give legal authority in its section 6(6), it doesn't give authority to 'advocates'.

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