140,000 NHS patients leave hospital undernourished,UK government admits
Nearly 140,000 NHS patients left hospital last year suffering from malnourishment, the Government has admitted.
Health campaigners have frequently complained that the elderly are treated as second-class citizens, with nurses and staff failing to provide help with eating meals.
Families complain about trays being placed out of reach of incapacitated patients or taken away before they have had time to finish eating.
Now it has been revealed that last year 139,127 patients were discharged malnourished, an 85 per cent increase on the number when Labour came to power in 1997.
Despite an attempt by the Government to improve hospital food last year, there are also continuing concerns about the quality of many meals.
Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien, who uncovered the new figures by asking Parliamentary questions, said: "It is a scandal that in 21st century Britain we allow vulnerable patients to be let out of hospital in a malnourished state.
"It is even worse that we allow thousands of patients to get more poorly while they are in hospital."
The figures show that, in 2006-07, 139,127 patients were discharged with a diagnosis of malnutrition, nutritional anaemia or another nutritional deficiency, up from the 1997-98 total of 75,431 patients.
The number has increased every year in the last decade. It went up 14,795 in the last year alone. Most patients were already suffering from malnutrition when they were taken in.
A total of 130,594 were admitted to hospital in 2006-07 in a state of malnourishment – an 85 per cent increase from the 1997-98 total of 70,658 patients.
But the nutritional state of at least 8,500 patients worsened while they were in hospital last year, the figures suggest.
Mr O'Brien said: "Malnourished patients are more prone to infections, have more complications after surgery, and have higher mortality rates – yet the Government allows over 130,000 patients to enter hospital in the state.
"If patients are at risk of malnutrition then they should be offered extra support before going into hospital, and they should be cared for better while they are in.
"Nurses need to be given the time and equipment to get on with the job of caring for our most vulnerable patients."
Health minister Ivan Lewis admitted last year that elderly patients were being starved because food was put out of reach or was inedible.
Some are given just a single scoop of mash as a meal, while others are "tortured" with trays of food thoughtlessly placed beyond their reach, he said.
He criticised the NHS for failing to realise that food is the key to good health, and set out plans for weekly weigh-ins of every patient and colour-coded trays to signal who needed help.
But the scheme is not compulsory and has been condemned as toothless by patients' groups.
Malnutrition is also a serious problem in care homes, more than 1,500 of which are estimated to be failing to feed their residents properly.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We have introduced protected mealtimes and have renewed the emphasis on nutritional screening.
"By working at national and local level we can ensure that in the future nutrition is given a much higher priority."