Forty-three hospital patients starved to death last year and 111 died of thirst while being treated on wards, new figures disclose today.
By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent
9:00PM BST 06 Oct 2012
The death toll was disclosed by the Government amid mounting concern over the dignity of patients on NHS wards.
They will also fuel concerns about care homes, as it was disclosed that eight people starved to death and 21 people died of thirst while in care.
Last night there were warnings that they must prompt action by the NHS and care home regulators to prevent further deaths among patients.
The Office for National Statistics figures also showed that:
* as well as 43 people who starved to death, 287 people were recorded by doctors as being malnourished when they died in hospitals;
* there were 558 cases where doctors recorded that a patient had died in a state of severe dehydration in hospitals;
* 78 hospital and 39 care home patients were killed by bedsores, while a further 650 people who died had their presence noted on their death certificates;
* 21,696 were recorded as suffering from septicemia when they died, a condition which experts say is most often associated with infected wounds.
The records, from the Office for National Statistics, follow a series of scandals of care of the elderly, with doctors forced to prescribe patients with drinking water or put them on drips to make sure they do not become severely dehydrated .
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the statistics were a grim and shaming reflection of 21st century Britain.
“These are people’s mothers, fathers, and grandparents,” she said. “It is hard enough to lose a loved one, but to find out that they died because they were not adequately fed or hydrated, is a trauma no family should have to bear.”
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK, described the figures as “deeply distressing” given that such deaths were avoidable.
She said: “Hospitals and care homes must pick up on the warning signs of malnutrition and ensure that while older people are in their care they get all the help and support they need to eat and drink.”
The disclosures come as a public inquiry into Stafford Hospital, where thousands died amid appalling failings in care, prepares to publish recommendations in the New Year on changes to prevent such a scandal being repeated.
They also follow a series of scandals over care of the elderly, leading to an intervention from David Cameron earlier this year ordering nurses to attend to patients more often.
Mr Cameron announced that nurses would have to undertake hourly ward rounds to check whether patients are hungry, in pain, or need help going to the lavatory. It followed spot checks by NHS regulators, which found that half of 100 hospitals were failing basic standards to treat elderly with dignity, and ensure they were properly fed.
A report published last week by the Royal College of Physicians said too many hospitals treat patients as “medical conditions” not people, leaving the most basic and emotional needs overlooked.
In Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, doctors resorted to prescribing patients with drinking water to ensure nurses did not forget, a report from inspectors warned in May last year.
The Care Quality Commission recorded one case where an elderly patient was found to be malnourished when they were admitted to the ward, yet not reassessed until 16 days later.
In many wards nurses were dumping meal trays in front of patients too weak to feed themselves and then taking them away again untouched.
A report by the Health Service Ombudsman last year condemned the NHS for its inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable.
The investigation found patients were left hungry, unwashed or given the wrong drugs because of the “casual indifference of staff”.
The ONS figures also disclose scores of care home residents who were found to be malnourished or malnourished when they died.
In total, 103 residents were dehydrated when they died, including 21 cases where it was the direct cause of death.
A further 39 deaths of care home residents involved malnourished residents; in eight cases malnutrition was listed as the direct cause.
Officials who compiled the figures said that not all the deaths could be directly blamed on poor care. Some illnesses such as dementia and diseases of the digestive tract make it more difficult to eat or drink.
The figures also disclose thousands of patients and care home residents suffering signs of neglect such as bedsores, when they died last year.
In total, 767 care home residents and hospital patients had bedsores when they died. In 78 cases in hospitals, and 39 cases in care homes, it was listed as the direct cause of death on deathc certificates.
There were also thousands of deaths of patients and care home residents who were suffering from septicaemia, which experts say is most often caused by infected wounds.
In total, 21,696 hospital patients and 1,100 care home residents were suffering from the blood poisoning when they died.
In care homes, it was the direct cause of death in 101 cases, and in hospitals, it caused 1,997 deaths.
In July, an inquest heard that a young man who died of dehydration at a leading hospital rang 999 for police because he was so thirsty.
Officers arrived at Kane Gorny’s bedside, but were told by nurses that he was in a confused state and were sent away.
The footballer and runner, 22, died of dehydration a few hours later, an inquest heard in July.
Mr Gorny had survived a malignant brain tumour in 2008. The cancer affected his pituitary gland, which controls the body’s mechanisms, such as fluid levels.
Part of his treatment included a course of steroids to regulate the fluid levels in his body. These drugs, however, weakened his bones and he was in hospital for a routine hip replacement.
Doctors had warned that, without regular medication to control his fluid levels, he would die.
But when he was admitted to St George’s Hospital in Tooting, South London, staff ignored repeated reminders from Mr Gorny and his family to give him the tablets, and he became severely dehydrated after being refused water.
His mother told the inquest that in May 2009 she received a distressed phone call from her son, in which he said he had called the police because he was so desperate for a drink.
Shortly before he died, his mother found him delirious and saw that his medication was untouched.
Mr Gorny became more and more dehydrated and sodium levels in his blood rose.
He died of water deficit and hypernatraemia, a medical term for dehydration, three days after he was admitted to hospital.