Office for National Statistics says that ‘poor care may have been a factor’ in some deaths
More than 1,000 care home patients have died suffering from malnutrition, dehydration or bedsores, new figures reveal.
At least one of the conditions was noted on the death certificates of as many as 1,463 vulnerable residents in NHS, local authority and privately-run care homes in England and Wales over the past five years..
The figures have been obtained by the Guardian from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which completed an analysis of death certificates at the newspaper’s request.
It follows a separate Guardian investigation that revealed some of the country’s worst care homes were owned by companies that made a total profit of £113m despite poor levels of care.
The ONS statistics showed where any of the three conditions were mentioned on patient death certificates as either the underlying cause or contributory factor.
From 2013 to 2017, dehydration was noted in 398 cases; malnutrition recorded 226 times; and bedsores mentioned 839 times. The conditions affected women far more than men, with females accounting for 1,005 of the deaths and males, 458.
The ONS cautioned that the data did “not provide enough information to link the deaths to poor care in the care home” but acknowledged that “it is possible that poor care may have been a factor in some of the deaths”.
The ONS added that it was not possible to determine how the conditions had come about, explaining that there were many reasons why people became malnourished, including patients who had cancer of the digestive tract meaning they could not eat properly or absorb nutrients.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “Many care home residents are coping with chronic health problems, including advanced dementia, and many are nearing the end of their lives. Horrible, potentially dangerous conditions such as pressure ulcers and problems with eating and drinking are all completely to be expected and it is imperative that there are enough staff, with the right training, to provide these very vulnerable older people with the high standards of health treatment and social care they need.
“Even if care homes are able to recruit and retain enough people with the right skills – a very big ‘if’ – they can’t meet the needs of very frail older people on their own. A lot of NHS input is required too.”
According to the Care Quality Commission, the industry watchdog, in 2018 1% of adult social care providers were “inadequate”; 17% “required improvement”; 79% were “good”; and 3% were “outstanding”.
Eileen Chubb, founder of Compassion in Care, a charity that campaigns on behalf of whistleblowers in the industry, said she regularly received calls from concerned family members whose loved ones were suffering from the conditions.
She said: “I would say these figures represent the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think most deaths of elderly people are examined properly enough, because people just expect old people to die.
“For people to die suffering with these conditions in this day and age, in a so-called civilised society, is scandalous.
“Often food is put in front of elderly care-home patients, but there simply aren’t enough staff to feed it to them,” Chubb added.