Thousands Of Hospital Patients Dying Of Thirst

Tens of thousands of patients are needlessly dying in our hospitals every year from kidney failure linked to dehydration, according to the healthcare regulator.

Between 12,000 and 42,000 deaths could be prevented every year if patients received the best possible care.

Around 100,000 cases of the condition, known as acute kidney injury, could be stopped by carrying out simple checks such as ensuring patients have enough to drink.

The condition, which kills more people every year than common cancers, can develop very quickly and occurs in people ill with conditions such as heart failure, diabetes and those suffering infections.

It can also develop after major surgery because the kidneys are deprived of normal blood flow during the procedure.

A new guideline from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) says acute kidney injury costs the NHS between £434 million and £620 million a year - more than it spends on breast, lung and skin cancer combined.

Between 262,000 and one million people admitted to hospital as an emergency will have the kidney condition, of which just under a quarter will die.

However, in 2009 a report from the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD) found only half of all patients with acute kidney injury had received good care, dropping to a third of those who developed it while in hospital.

Dr Mark Thomas, chair of the new guideline development group and nephrologist at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, said: "AKI has been something of a Cinderella condition in the past both within healthcare and in the public perception, yet it kills more people than any of the common cancers.

"In the past, the care for this condition has not always been uniformly good, partly because the patients have tended to present to a range of non-specialists who may have been unfamiliar with the best prevention and treatment of the condition."

The new guideline says NHS staff should measure serum creatinine levels – a marker of kidney function - in those with existing conditions such as heart failure, liver disease, diabetes, a history of kidney problems or blood poisoning.

Patients taking common drugs such as ibuprofen, ARBs or ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure should also be monitored closely as these can have a negative impact on kidneys.

Other basic checks include measuring urine output and ensuring a patient is not dehydrated, the guideline said.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for clinical practice at Nice, said: "Acute kidney injury is a huge problem for the NHS.

"This new Nice guideline aims to raise awareness among healthcare professionals to recognise and treat the condition early and focuses on prevention, recognition, treatment and timely access to specialist services for all."

Fiona Loud, director of the Kidney Alliance, said: "Acute kidney injury is something that happens really quickly. Within a few hours your condition can become life-threatening, and it is completely avoidable."