Thursday, March 12, 2009

8,000 patients malnourished after staying in NHS hospitals

More than 8,000 patients left hospital last year after becoming malnourished while under NHS care. Despite ministers' promises, this total was a 16.5 per cent increase on the previous year - and more than double the number when Labour came to power. Critics said it was shameful the NHS was sending patients home in worse condition than before treatment.

Last year 148,946 were admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition or another severe nutritional deficiency, but 157,175 were discharged with the same condition. It means 8,229 people arrived without nutrition problems but left hospital malnourished.

The Daily Mail's Dignity for the Elderly Campaign has highlighted the scandal of old people not being fed properly in hospital. The food is often so unappetising that patients do not eat, and sometimes it is placed out of their reach and taken away untouched. Nurses often claim they are too busy to help patients eat their food. Malnutrition has soared as 13million meals each year are thrown away by the NHS.

Age Concern says 60 per cent of older patients, who occupy two-thirds of general hospital beds, are at risk of worsening health or becoming malnourished. Gordon Lishman, the charity's director general, said: 'The malnutrition of older people is still a huge problem in hospitals up and down the country.' He added: 'Food, and help with eating, must be recognised by ward staff as an essential part of patient care.'

Alison Smith, a senior dietician at the British Dietetic Association, said: 'The biggest problem in the vast majority of hospitals is that some patients simply can't eat the food they are given without help, which they don't always get.' She added: 'Food is a form of medication and if staff begin to see it that way they will take it more seriously.'

The figures, released by the NHS Information Centre, found that in 2007-08, 3,008 were discharged with full-blown malnutrition, 139,140 had nutritional anaemia and 15,027 left with other nutritional deficiencies. The total of 157,175 is more than double the 75,431 recorded the year Labour came to power. And the 8,229 whose malnutrition was caused by the NHS is also more than double the 3,336 in 1997-98.

Under pressure from the Government, those who need help with eating are served meals on red trays. However, one in three trusts have still not implemented the system. Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients Association, said: ' Sometimes food is taken away untouched from a patient who wants to eat it but can't without assistance. 'The red trays are being ignored and as a result a very high proportion of elderly patients are leaving hospitals malnourished.' Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: 'It is essential that patients are given good-quality, nourishing food.' A spokesman for the Department of Health said 'Good food is important for all patients and we have recognised this as a priority issue.'


NHS hospitals spend less on their patients' food than prisons on their inmates

Some hospital patients have less money spent on their meals than criminals. Last year, ten hospitals spent less on breakfast, lunch and an evening meal than the 2.12 pounds a day allocated for food by the prison service. One hospital spent just one pound.

Ministers promised action to improve the quality of hospital food two years ago, saying some elderly patients were being served nothing more than a scoop of grey mashed potato. Experts say cost-cutting hospitals are increasingly moving to soup and sandwiches to save money. Others are buying food that is prepared off site, frozen and then defrosted in the hospital.

The figures from the NHS Information Centre also expose shocking waste, with some trusts throwing away a third of meals entirely untouched. A total of 11million meals a year are thrown away uneaten.

Earlier this week it emerged that more than 8,000 patients left hospital malnourished even though they had been admitted with no nutritional problems. This was up 16.5 per cent in a year and was more than double the figure when Labour came to power.

The figures on hospital food spending have been condemned by doctors, patients groups, and opposition politicians. Dr Mike Stroud of the hospital nutrition charity BAPEN said: 'The catering budget is an easy target in trusts which are pushed for money. Some have gone to soups, cold meals and sandwiches in a bid to cut costs. 'But this is a false economy: food is an integral part of treatment, not just part of the hotel service. Studies have shown that patients who eat well recover better.'

Conservative health spokesman Stephen O'Brien said: 'More people are now coming out of hospital malnourished than went in. Is it any surprise when the Government is prepared to allow some hospitals to spend less on their patients than they spend on food for prisoners?'

The figures revealed that average daily spending on hospital food across England was 6.97, compared with 9.87 in Wales. The figures do not cover Scotland. But some are spending much smaller amounts. The figures show that the Kevin White Unit at Sefton Health Park, a mental health hospital on Merseyside, spends just 1 pound on its patients. However, the local trust said this was not a true reflection of the full cost as some meals are provided on a different site and transferred. Next is Nelson Hospital, a mental health facility in South London, on 1.53. The lowest general hospital on the league table is Hemel Hempstead on 1.93. The general hospital with the highest spending is Bristol Hospital, where 16.80 is spent per patient per day.


Australia: More gross incompetence from Queensland Health

Anna Bligh has abandoned Health Minister Stephen Robertson after revelations he had failed to fix dangerous health staff accommodation. The Premier today repeatedly refused to support Mr Robertson after The Courier-Mail revealed public servants were still living in 60 hazardous dwellings of the original 101 residences identified across the state. Mr Robertson had promised last May to fix the problems within a few months following the completion of a statewide audit in the wake of the sexual assault of a Torres Strait nurse in her rundown living quarters.

Campaigning in Mackay today, Ms Bligh said she was "absolutely not' happy at the failures, saying she would seek a "please explain" from Mr Robertson and his director-general Mick Reid later today. "I'm very disappointed to hear progress I thought was happening has not happened," Ms Bligh said. "I will be asking serious questions ... when I return to Brisbane. I want to know why this was the case." Ms Bligh was unable to say when the residences would be fixed but has promised to provide details later today. Asked if Mr Robertson still had her support as she had previously indicated, Ms Bligh said: "I will be asking questions about this issue when I get back to Brisbane."

Her comments came after The Courier-Mail reported the failures with five of the "extreme" dwellings still being fixed. The substandard conditions were discovered after a statewide audit - launched after a Torres Strait nurse was sexually assaulted in her rundown accommodation - found broken or missing locks, security screens, lighting and smoke alarms. Asked about the progress a fortnight ago, Mr Reid was clueless and said: "I would presume all 100 have been done."

However, Mr Robertson yesterday admitted to the failure but insisted some "improvements" had been made to the five unfinished, inhabited "extreme" dwellings. He blamed the delays on the vagueness of his own audit, bad weather and re-tendering of contracts after a poor industry response. "In May last year, I had the expectation that these renovations would, indeed, be completed within months," he said. "While work is progressing well on this rectification work, there have been a number of issues which have led to the work taking longer than I was first advised."

But Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said the failure showed Labor had learnt nothing as the initial assault in the Torres Strait came after damning security reports were ignored. "If they spent as much time fixing things as they do spin-doctoring and making excuses, then things would be done," he said. Mr Robertson had initially lauded his response to the housing audit, fast-tracking $10 million in funding and promising completion within "weeks and months". "This should never ever be repeated (and) I am determined to ensure that," he had said. But the money spent on the work only totals $4.06 million.

The revelations come only a fortnight after Mr Robertson refused to apologise for attacking a public servant involved in the Torres Strait case, despite being unable to produce any evidence to justify the attack.


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