Preventing malnutrition in later life

Nutritional standards still a “significant problem” in hospitals

I was deeply saddened to see another report came out last week showing older patients are still suffering poor and inconsistent standards of dignity and help with eating in hospitals.

The report, published by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the LSE, says this is a “significant problem” affecting the “vast majority” of English NHS hospital trusts.

The research has broken down data in the Adult Inpatient Survey for 2012-13 to provide this detailed picture of older people’s experiences during hospital stays. The report has developed a new approach to analysing the results, one that looks at the relative risks of receiving poor care as well as the overall numbers of people affected. And the results are alarming.

The report shows that of those patients who needed help eating, more than one in three didn’t receive enough assistance. This is equivalent to 1.3 million people on an annual basis, of whom 640,000 are aged 65 or over.

It also found that people over the age of 80 and those living with long-standing illness or disability were amongst the most affected, while other risk factors included someone’s age, gender, their length of stay and whether they had a ‘high risk’ hospital journey (i.e. multiple ward stays).

This is particularly concerning as it shows the more vulnerable someone is, the more at risk they are.

There is one statistic that jumps out above all others. The research found that for someone who faces all of these risk factors, the relative chances of them receiving consistently good nutritional care is just 10%.

It should be noted more recent survey results show the NHS has seen some improvement in headline figures, but there is still a long way to go.

In response to the Francis Inquiry into the failings at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, the government published a host of new hospital standards including around nutritional and hydration care. The work of the Hospital Food Standards Panel last year made additional recommendations which are now enforceable through the NHS standard contract.

Yet it is clear that we still need to see that fundamental change in how hospitals care for older people’s nutritional needs and dignity. After all, we would not want to see ourselves or our own loved ones treated like this, so why should others receive this treatment?

Turning this situation around should definitely be a top priority and hospitals must redouble their efforts to guarantee good nutritional standards for all patients.

Read ‘Older people’s experiences of dignity and nutrition during hospital stays’ summary report 

Blog contributed by Age UK’s ‎Health Influencing Programme Director, Ruthe Isden. 

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