Shock Report Warns Elderly Going Hungry In Hospital

Hospitals are not doing enough to tackle elderly malnutrition and hunger, according to a charity. Age Concern said many hospitals of “still not doing enough to stop older people from going hungry on hospital wards”.

The study of 110 English and Welsh NHS trusts found 43% did not run protected mealtimes – where non-urgent work stops to make sure patients eat.

Age Concern say that six out of 10 older people are at risk of becoming malnourished, or their situation getting worse in hospital.

Evidence from the ‘Hungry to be Heard’ campaign found that volunteers helping out with mealtimes was “effective” and the fact that eight out of 10 NHS Trusts had not rolled-out the scheme was “disappointing”.

The campaign calls for older peoples’ mealtimes to be “protected” from non-urgent activity like ward rounds and routine tests, so patients are free to eat without interruption.

Some of the problems of mealtimes included vegetarians being given meal dishes, non-pureed food being given to patients with swallowing difficulties and food trays being placed at the end of the bed or on tray tables which are too high and out of the patients reach.

Patrick South, Head of Public Affairs for Age Concern said: “Tackling malnutrition should be a top priority for all NHS trusts, yet our evidence shows unacceptable inconsistencies across the country.

“It’s shocking that many older people still find themselves trapped within a ‘postcode lottery of commitment’ to improve nutritional standards on hospital wards.”

The charity wants the NHS Constitution and the new health and social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, to make nutrition a top priority for the NHS.

Already, Age concern are working with the Healthcare Commission to improve its assessment of NHS trust and are distributing leaflets to families and carers of older people to help them spot the signs of malnutrition.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said that “we recognise that protected mealtimes are an issue”.

She added that Nutrition Action Plan, launched in October 2007 aims to outline how nutritional care and hydration can be improved amongst vulnerable adults in all health and social care settings.

In 2007, the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) received more than 29,000 reports of incidents relating to patient nutrition.