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Deaths in hospital from dehydration: Sunday Times, 10 February 2013

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Letter for publication in response to an article in the Sunday Times, 10 February 2013

Issue date: 11 February 2013
Type: Letter to the Press

Dear sir,

Your article "Who Cares?" (10 February 2013) misrepresents the data published by the Office for National Statistics. It claims that: "111 hospital patients died from dehydration in NHS hospitals in 2011 and 43 from malnutrition, all the consequence of a collective failure of care."

ONS mortality data do not provide enough evidence to draw conclusions about quality of care. There are many explanations as to why someone dies with one of these causes mentioned on the death certificate. For example, if a person is malnourished they may have cancer of the digestive tract, which means they can't eat properly or can't absorb nutrients; they may have suffered from a stroke or have advanced dementia which can cause difficulties chewing and swallowing; or they may abuse alcohol and so not eat properly. The deceased may have been malnourished before they went into hospital (for any of the reasons mentioned above), and perhaps only have been in hospital a very short time and the malnutrition may not be the result of failures in hospital care. In addition, the figures published show deaths in all hospitals, not just NHS hospitals.

These two points were clearly explained in the information that accompanied the data release.

Yours faithfully,

Judith Jones
Deputy Director, Life Events and Population Sources Division
Segensworth Road
Hampshire PO15 5RR

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