Preventing malnutrition in later life

Talking malnutrition in Parliament

Dianne Jeffrey and Baroness Sally Greengross at the MTF Parliamentary reception
Dianne Jeffrey ( far left and speaking) and Baroness Sally Greengross (left and sitting) at the MTF Parliamentary reception. Photograph: Alex Rumford

The Malnutrition Task Force recently hosted an event in Parliament. In this blog, our chair Dianne Jeffrey discusses the event and reflects back on the key issues surrounding malnutrition that were covered in the speeches.   

Earlier this month, I was honoured to be part of a great Parliamentary reception hosted by the Malnutrition Task Force.

This event was put on to raise awareness of the scourge of malnutrition in older people. It also gave us the opportunity to showcase the achievements of the Task Force’s Malnutrition Prevention Programme and celebrate NHS England’s new nutrition and hydration commissioning guidance.

We had an excellent attendance from numerous professionals and parliamentarians interested in the issue, and there were plenty of opportunities for everyone to mingle and exchange ideas.

Alongside myself, we heard from two speakers. Baroness Sally Greengross, our sponsor for the event and a dedicated, passionate supporter of older people, and Dr. Charles Alessi, a GP and Senior Advisor at Public Health England, both talked about their professional experiences of dealing with malnutrition in older people.

In our talks, all three of us reflected on the stark realities of the situation today.

The scale of malnutrition

In the UK, over one million older people are malnourished or at real risk of becoming so.

Malnutrition is a hDr. Charles Alessiugely serious but all too often hidden problem. As Dr. Alessi (right) poignantly highlighted in his talk, more than a third of older people are already malnourished or at risk by the time they reach a hospital or care home.

It’s in everyone’s interest to combat malnutrition, with costs for treating it running into billions of pounds.

However, although the financial case is shocking, it’s the human cost that cannot be ignored. Those who are malnourished are more likely to go into hospital and need longer to recover from illness or injury.

When it comes to causes, there are countless reasons why an older person may not be eating sufficiently.

For some it could be related to a condition. For others disability might mean it becomes harder to cook and shop.

Baroness Greengross talked about the social reasons behind malnutrition. It’s so important to remember loneliness and isolation aren’t just problems in themselves; they can cause people to lose interest and neglect food.

Dr. Alessi, drawing on his experiences from primary care, stressed that GPs must know the signs, ask questions and be proactive about the likes of checking fridges when visiting patients at risk, otherwise malnutrition will continue to go underdetected and undertreated.

Of course, the festering of malnutrition isn’t helped by the popular misconception that it’s normal to lose weight as you age.

What we are doing

Yet despite a lack of awareness, no one should doubt there isn’t much work being done across the UK to combat malnutrition.

During the event we also looked back on the Task Force’s work and the achievements of the Prevention Programme’s pilot sites.

The Programme, which was supported by the Department of Health, saw health, care and voluntary bodies coming together to tackle malnutrition in our pilot sites of Gateshead, Salford, Purbeck in Dorset, Kent and Lambeth and Southwark.

All the sites involved created innovative projects to tackle malnutrition. I would encourage everyone to read more about their work and to get in touch with them should you want to know more.

Elsewhere, the Task Force have been working with NHS England to promote their comprehensive guidance for commissioners, ‘Commissioning Excellent Nutrition and Hydration.’

This is a brilliant piece of work that puts nutrition and hydration at the heart of good health and care and is a must read for all commissioners who want to tackle malnutrition.

We all need to tackle this

Although the event saw us reflecting largely on the work of the Malnutrition Task Force, I’m heartened that we’re not alone in the field. There are many other committed individuals and organisations working tirelessly to change the lives of malnourished older people.

A good job too – we need individuals from across the country to tackle this problem and it was great to see so many of them under one roof!

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Click here to read a one page document about malnutrition in the UK today, and what professionals can do to help, that we gave out during our Parliament event.

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