Letter for publication in response to an article in The Daily Mail on Thursday 26 January 2012.
Your article "Four die thirsty and starving on our wards every day" (Daily Mail, 23 January 2012) contains a factual inaccuracy. You state that four patients are dying hungry and thirsty on hospital wards every day, and this is based on an annual figure of 1,316 deaths. However, to obtain this figure you have summed the number of deaths where dehydration or malnutrition was the underlying cause of death, with the number of deaths where these causes were mentioned anywhere on the death certificate.
The figures based on underlying cause of death should not be added to figures based on when a cause is mentioned anywhere on the death certificate. This is because the number of deaths based on underlying cause are already included in the figures based on any mention of a cause. Moreover, individuals who were suffering from both dehydration and malnutrition will be included twice in the figures based on any mention on the death certificate. By adding the four numbers together you are double-counting deaths.
This point is clearly explained in the tables provided by ONS, and was also emphasised during e-mail correspondence with your journalist.
There were 1,094 deaths where malnutrition or dehydration (or both) were mentioned on the death certificate, either as the underlying cause or as a contributory factor in hospitals in England and Wales in 2010. This equates to three deaths per day on average.
Health and Life Events Division
Office for National Statistics