Staffordshire’s £65m care bill as pensioners starve from malnutrition

STARVING pensioners are costing the economy of Staffordshire around £65 million a year. A study undertaken by Staffordshire County Council has found that thousands of pensioners are suffering from malnutrition.

By 2015, the overall cost of treating and caring for malnourished pensioners is expected to leap to almost £80 million and by 2030 it is set to cost the county more than £100 million.

The figures break down to show that, as of 2009, there were about 6,700 malnourished pensioners across North Staffordshire – 2,300 in Newcastle, 2,400 in Stafford and just under 2,000 across Staffordshire Moorlands.

By 2030, the county council predicts more than 10,200 pensioners will suffer from malnutrition, caused by not eating enough vitamins and nutrients, which can lead to fatigue, weakness and all manner of health problems.

The figures do not include undernourished pensioners in Stoke-on-Trent, because the city council has not carried out any studies into malnutrition.

Andy Day, co-ordinator of North Staffordshire Older People’s Association, said: “These figures are shocking and they do raise the question, ‘are we looking after vulnerable and frail people properly?’

“We have heard evidence of people who have been malnourished on admittance into hospital, and have still been malnourished when they have come out.

“We’ve heard of care workers coming into people’s homes, food is prepared – sometimes inappropriately, or not something the person wants – and quite often no thought is given to whether the person can feed themselves properly.

“We’ve heard reports of drinks being put out of reach in hospital, where the individual physically can’t get to it.”

The report was commissioned by the county council’s social care scrutiny committee.

The committee’s chairman, Conservative councillor Geoff Morrison, inset above, who represents Uttoxeter, said: “I was surprised when officers first talked to us about the potential prevalence of malnutrition within the community and its impact on the wider health economy.

“However, the initial information we were provided with, that malnutrition had a potentially four times greater impact on the health economy than obesity, was enough to persuade us it was an issue worthy of further attention.”

Mr Morrison says statistics show that nationally, malnutrition potentially costs £13 billion a year, compared to a cost of £3.2 billion to care and treat people suffering from obesity.

Andrew Paul, of Hilderstone Care Home, was asked for advice during the making of the report. He said: “Many people suffer from malnutrition and people are admitted to hospital.

“Older people living at home tend to get in a spiral. If it is a cold day outside, they might not want to got out to do the shopping, and decide to have crackers and cheese for their dinner instead.

“People become malnourished very quickly. If your diet is wrong and you are not getting the correct nutrients, your body loses heat, and you start becoming tired quicker. People might start feeling depressed – there are lots of different factors.

“Some care homes serve frozen meals, but that is a false economy. You can serve nutritious home cooked meals cheaply.”

The county council now plans to take action to combat the growing problem; initially with an awareness campaign.

Conservative county councillor Matthew Ellis, cabinet member for adults and wellbeing, said: “It’s very much a hidden issue.

“I have asked our communications team for an awareness campaign.

“I will be writing to care homes and hospitals to remind them of their responsibilities.

“Our health development team has been doing some work on nutritional food, to encourage care homes to improve the quality of food.

“It’s really important from a community point of view that people step forward and keep an eye on older people, who are perhaps living on their own.”