Inquiry Launched Into Why Hospitals Allow The Elderly To Go Hungry

Hospitals and care homes are to face a major inquiry into the way frail elderly people are allowed to go hungry.

It follows research backed by charity studies that more than half of all older patients are at risk of malnutrition.

Ministers have agreed to support the investigation into which patients arrive on wards or in homes suffering from malnutrition and how their treatment is handled.

The inquiry comes in the wake of reports which say malnutrition among the elderly is widespread and that nurses and staff regularly neglect to ensure that vulnerable people are helped to eat meals.

Meals are left out of the reach of patients or residents, critics of hospital and care home standards have alleged.

They say that staff frequently fail to help patients eat, or remove meals before they have had a chance to eat them.

A charity study has found six out of ten elderly people in hospitals are at risk of malnutrition

Some studies have suggested that as many as six out of ten elderly hospital patients may be at risk of malnutrition and that poor nourishment affects as many as one in six people living in care homes.

The new inquiry is to be run by a nutrition charity, the British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition and will check how new patients and residents are screened by medical and care staff for signs of malnutrition.

Care Minister Ivan Lewis said: “The findings will enhance our evidence base and generate important information for hospital, clinical and support staff as well as for public health in general.”

Malnutrition among elderly people in health institutions is thought to have become widespread in recent years.

It has been linked by charities for the elderly to complaints about abuse of patients and residents, including physical abuse and neglect.

Reasons for malnutrition can be straightforward – for example staff not bothering to make sure a meal is put where a patient can easily reach it.

The Daily Mail has highlighted neglect of older people in its Dignity for the Elderly campaign.

Last year the Government launched its own ‘Dignity in Care’ campaign aimed at ending, among other abuses and instances of neglect, malnutrition of older people because care staff are too busy or otherwise pre-occupied to help them eat.

The new survey will involve medical and support workers in hospitals and staff in care homes who will answer detailed questions about their screening of newly-admitted patients and residents over three days later this month.

Professor Marinos Elia of BAPEN said: “Malnutrition is preventable and if treated early can improve outcomes for patients and residents.

“In the long run, treatment saves the NHS and social care system money as the cost of treatment is small compared with the potential benefits to be gained.”

The charity said most of the existing research on the extent of malnutrition in institutions is a decade out of date and is based on different understandings of what constitutes malnutrition.

Christine Russell, who will conduct the research, said: “This will provide evidence for hospitals and care homes on the scale of the problem they have to tackle.”

The charity Age Concern published a report last year which said that six out of ten elderly people in hospitals were at risk of malnutrition.

MPs and peers on the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights said last month that one in five care homes fail to meet expected standards and that malnutrition is a widespread problem.

A survey by the Royal College of Nursing earlier this year found that just under half of nurses said there were problems either in getting food to patients or in finding staff to help those who cannot eat unaided.