Our elderly are dying of thirst


ONE in seven deaths in Wigan’s old folks homes is caused by dehydration, shocking figures reveal this week.

And there has been more than 4,500 “unexpected deaths” in the borough’s care homes in the last decade, prompting charity chiefs to demand better standards of care.

The Wigan Observer has been contacted by relatives of residents who speak of staff leaving food and drinks for pensioners incapable of looking after themselves then taking them away unsurprisingly untouched.

A random sample of 209 death certificates from Wigan care homes revealed 29 cases in which dehydration played a part, according to the Care Quality Commission.

And since Office for National Statistics figures show that thousands of care home residents are suffering dehydration at the time of death, Age UK is demanding action.

Its Wigan branch’s chief officer, John McArdle, has said more support in monitoring and assessing the elderly by both residential homes and hospitals is needed, instead of old people being viewed as “having no worth and being a nuisance”.

He added: “Age UK wouldn’t want to be alarmist about the extent of dehydration and malnutrition within the care sector.

“Wherever such issues occur, they represent a scandal and need to be investigated and people held to account. Older people deserve the highest standard of care and support, including regular drinks and food.

“Dehydration and malnutrition can be avoided; they are not inevitable consequences of getting old, but instead are the inevitable consequences of viewing older people as

having no worth and being a nuisance.

“If we want to eradicate this problem, care homes and hospitals need adequate staffing levels in order to support vulnerable patients in eating and drinking.

“Care homes and hospitals need to monitor an older person’s intake to ensure that they remain hydrated and well fed. This issue is integral to the provision of high quality care and can affect a persons physical health. We need to ensure that it goes to the top of the agenda.”

The daughter of one Wigan care home resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “It doesn’t surprise me in the least. I have seen this in two different homes where my mother has stayed now: staff not taking the time to give food and drink to residents who are unable to feed themselves.

“What on earth is the point of leaving a cup of juice in front of a poor old lady incapable of looking after herself then coming back later and whisking it away again without its being touched? Fluids are vital to all human beings. Surely ensuring that a resident gets proper and regular drinks is about as fundamental part of the job as possible.

“To do otherwise makes a mockery of the term ‘care’ home.”

By law, all unexpected deaths within care homes have to be reported to the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Unexpected deaths are defined as to where the person was found to be dead while staff were undertaking their regular routine observation rounds.

Recently in one case, a coroner ruled that the father-in-law of a former local MP, who was admitted and then discharged from hospital five times in a single month, died of a naturally occurring disease.

Dad-of-six and ex-docker Tommy Kevan - who worked a decade after the retirement age and was described as a “big, strong man” - passed away in April from heart failure and aortic valve disease with a C-Diff infection described as a “trigger”.

The 91-year-old’s family, represented at a Bolton inquest by his son-in-law, former Makerfield MP Sir Ian McCartney, who believed the late Stubshaw Cross man was repeatedly prematurely discharged from hospital and that there were delays in determining the level of his illness leaving him weak, confused and dehydrated “because he had had a good innings”.

The former Government minister - who is now chairman of Wigan’s Independent NHS watchdog - also accused the Alexandra Court Intermediate Care Centre of an “appalling lack of record-keeping”.