The Daily Mail used ONS figures to look at the number of deaths from dehydration in care homes. Tricia Dodd of ONS wrote to take issue with the way that the paper had used the data provided to it.
Issue date: 31 January 2011
Type: Letter to the Press
Your article "600 Die Of Thirst In Care Homes" (Mail) misrepresents the data provided by the Office for National Statistics.
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.
You make a comparison between figures for 1997 and figures added together for 2005-2009. This is misleading. Combining five years of data obscures the actual trends for that period, for example figures per year for 'falls' and 'pressure ulcers' actually decreased significantly between 1997 and 2009. Furthermore, the number of elderly people has increased between 1997 and 2009 so comparisons over this period should be made using rates (deaths per 100,000 population) which were provided.
Divisional Director, Centre for Health Analysis and Life Events
Office for National Statistics
Newport NG10 8XG