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Patients dying of thirst in Britain's hospitals

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), hundreds of hospital patients are dying of dehydration each year.

The figures reveal that dehydration was a contributing factor in 812 deaths and the cause of a further 155 deaths in 2010, the latest year for which the figures are available. This is a steep increase of 20% on the previous year when only 130 people died as a result of dehydration.

From 2000 – 2010, the total number of deaths caused by dehydration reached 1,338 according to ONS statistics.

It has been noted that not every death can be blamed on poor patient care because some illnesses such as certain cancers make it near impossible for patients to drink. However, the recently released figures have caused alarm because a lapse in patient care can have tragic consequences.

In 2009, Kane Gorny died at the age of 22 after losing a third of his body fluids while recovering from a hip operation in St George’s Hospital, South West London. The Coroner blamed neglect by ‘incompetent staff’ as the cause of his death.

The Chief Executive of the Patients’ Association has said: “The Kane Gorny case was a particularly shocking one, and these figures suggest that the lessons have not been learnt. Deaths from dehydration are totally unacceptable in today’s NHS.”

Peter Walsh, of the charity Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) said: “Sadly, failure to monitor fluid intake is an all too familiar aspect of cases we have been involved in.

“All too often it is elderly patients who are worst affected by dehydration in hospitals. Every case is unique. But what we need is a system where it is impossible for the basic provision of fluid to fail.”

By Sarah Fairclough