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Is untreated kidney damage due to poor care in the NHS “killing thousands”?


    Following a recent NHS report suggesting that many patients are suffering every day due to dehydration in hospitals – what more can be done to prevent this?

    By Rebecca Callard

I read recently reports in both the Telegraph and Independent that 40,000 NHS patients die each year from dehydration and kidney damage as a result of hospital staff failing to provide appropriate care.

Kidney damage is a condition which can lead to multiple organ failure and, in more severe cases, death.


The report was recently commissioned by the NHS itself which suggested that the number of patients suffering with kidney damage whilst being treated in hospital is much higher than they previously thought, some 14%. As a result of this, an astonishing 40,000 people could be dying whilst being treated in hospital each year.

This is worrying enough, but the report went on to suggest that 20-30% of those cases could be prevented.

The study referred to some of the failings identified being as a result of a lack of basic medical care, including failing to check a patient’s fluid balance (basically that they have enough fluids) and failing to perform regular observations.

The study estimated that just over 1% of the NHS budget in 2010-2011 was spent on patients with kidney damage. As the study suggests that 20% of cases are preventable, this indicates that the NHS are spending in the region of £200 million per year unnecessarily on this issue.


The difficulty is of course that kidney damage can be caused by any number of contributing factors and not all those suffering kidney damage have suffered kidney damage due to poor care in the NHS or, more seriously, clinical negligence. The NHS has stated in a publication on its website that the claim of 40,000 in-patients dying from dehydration each year is unsupported.

The study undertaken did not include data about the stage of the kidney damage reached in each patient, whether kidney damage was present prior to their admission to hospital, and/or the stage of their kidney damage upon discharge. As with any study it therefore has its limitations, but should the fact that the NHS claim 20% of kidney damage injury is preventable be worrying us?


Although the NHS refute the claim that 40,000 patients a year are “dying of thirst” as a result of dehydration, they do acknowledge that the study they conducted shows the importance of recognising which of their patients could be at risk of developing kidney damage earlier, thereby treating them more proactively to prevent it from occurring.  Care such as ensuring patients have adequate fluids and basic observations carried out are fundamental and all hospitals must place greater emphasis on this and ensuring all staff are trained accordingly.  This has also been the subject of recent guidance published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence).

The Clinical Negligence Team act for many clients who have suffered kidney damage, which is often particularly stark and concerning when the reason they were in hospital in the first place may just have been for a minor procedure from which they should have made a full recovery.  If you are concerned about any care or treatment you or your family have received, then call one of our specialists to get some free initial advice as to what your options may be.  You may also find our ‘recent cases’ section useful to see the types of claims that have been made for many of our clients in the past.

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