Hundreds of care home residents killed by thirst

Almost 700 elderly people died from dehydration in care homes between 2005 and 2009, new statistics show.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 667 people died and a further 157 died of malnutrition.

Campaigners described the figures as “absolutely shocking” but the figure could be higher still, as residents who were admitted to hospital and died there did not count towards the totals.

The figures mean that, on average, 133 people died from dehydration each year – which is more than double the 66 deaths in 1997.

Deaths from malnutrition stayed at almost exactly the same level; with 30 in 1997 and an average of just over 31 over the five-year period.

Neil Duncan-Jordan, of the National Pensioners Convention, which represents about 1.5million retired people, said: “The fact that people are dying from these causes is absolutely shocking in the 21st century.

“It shows that a significant number of older people in our care homes are getting substandard, third-rate attention.”

The statistics also show that 4,881 people died from falls; 1,349 died from the superbug Clostridium difficile; and 1,446 died from pressure sores, over the five years.

A further 579 died from MRSA.

Campaigners criticised the quality of care in many homes and pointed out that residents or their families often had to pay high and even exorbitant fees for sub-standard treatment.

The average cost of staying in a care home is between £600 and £800 per week.

They said if the standards of care were sufficiently high, far fewer people would be dying from preventable incidents like falls and pressure sores, which can be prevented with proper care and supervision.

Regular complaints have been made about the standards of food and feeding in care home.

Some claim staff are untrained or unwilling to help feed residents who are unable to help themselves, and even place food out of reach and take it away uneaten.

A spokeswoman for Age UK said: “Making sure residents eat nutritious, regular meals must be a high priority for care home staff.”

Last October, it was disclosed that the number of elderly people being treated in hospital had risen by two thirds in a decade.

A year ago, the Department of Health issued an alert after a report found that people in care homes were far more likely to be given the wrong medicine than those in the community.

An official audit in 2009, found that one in six care homes were providing substandard care for elderly people.

Dozens of care homes were closed down last year after inspectors found they had neglected their residents.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat Care Services Minister, said: “It is simply unacceptable that people still die undignified deaths from wholly avoidable causes.”