Malnutrition is rising concern

PUBLISHED: 18:47 16 March 2011

More people are being admitted to hospital from their own homes at risk of malnutrition

More people are being admitted to hospital from their own homes at risk of malnutrition

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2009

One in three patients going into hospital from their own homes is at risk of malnutrition, and the numbers could rise if meals-on-wheels services are cut, according to a charity.

Nutrition charity BAPEN, which ran the nationwide survery, found a higher percentage of malnutrition in those admitted into hospital from their own homes than in previous surveys - prompting fears that changes and cuts to community meals-on-wheels services in Norfolk and Suffolk could exacerbate an already increasing problem.

Clare Peters, head of dietetics at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said: “It’s certainly the case that increasing numbers of elderly patients who are being admitted to hospital are already at risk of malnutrition. There will be different factors involved, not least the growing size of the elderly population who are living longer with more complex health needs that can lead to loss of appetite. The cost of food has also been rising and that also contributes to the problem. Pressure on public sector funding may go on to have an impact too with services like meals-on-wheels but there are a range of factors that contribute.”

The hospital assesses elderly patients on admission, and those who are at risk of malnutrition are given a red food tray to help identify them as a patient who needs closer monitoring of their food intake, or help from a volunteer with feeding.

At the James Paget University Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn patients are also assessed when addmitted.

Dr Bernard Brett, medical director at JPUH, said: “If patients are considered at risk appropriate action is taken on the results which may include referral to dieticians.”

Norfolk County Council currently subsidises community meals by £1.2m a year, but last month it agreed to axe the subsidy.

Currently the 1,000 people receiving community meals-on-wheels pay just £3.24 for a meal, and the average subsidy is £4.96 per meal. Alternative providers, offering meals at a resonable price, will be phased in over the next two years.

David Harwood, a council cabinet member, said opening the service up to a variety of providers could help to improve availability and cost, and the council was planning to introduce a standardised well-being check linked to meal deliveries.

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