Report on malnutrition in NHS hospitals

On 28 January 2019, The Sun and The Daily Mail reported: ‘Starved to death - Three patients a day die from malnutrition, thirst or choking on hospital wards’, which shared concerning figures released by the Office for National Statistics. The new statistics showed that in 2017, a total of 936 hospital in-patients had malnourishment, dehydration or choking mentioned as a main or contributing factor on their death certificate. Of these, there were 74 cases where lack of food was the primary cause, the highest number ever recorded.

Dr Trevor Smith, President of BAPEN, commented on the news coverage, saying, “These figures are indeed alarming and a clear call to action to those in health and social care professions to take notice of the nutrition and hydration needs of those in their care. Nonetheless, there is a danger that the significance of the ONS statistics may be misinterpreted.”

“Most malnutrition that presents in care settings is disease-related. Often patients are admitted to hospital with complex conditions which the healthcare professionals caring for them take very seriously. To claim that patients are being ‘neglected’ or ‘forgotten’ is misleading and suggests that the statistics released by the ONS are the result of a neglectful NHS workforce, which is not the case. Indeed, one third of people aged 65 years or over are already malnourished or at risk of malnutrition when they are admitted to hospital. It is important to highlight that patients with progressive health conditions or those who are nearing the end of life may experience symptoms such as weight loss, reduced nutritional intake and impaired ability to swallow. The healthcare professionals caring for them will be doing everything possible to ease the burden of these symptoms.”

“Malnutrition in the context of severe disease may be unavoidable but it is nevertheless treatable and modifiable. To see any improvement in the recent ONS statistics on malnutrition, we need to improve nutritional care planning and consistently deliver nutritional care in a structured way. We believe there is a need to implement stringent nutritional screening programmes across all health and social care systems.”

BAPEN’s response can be read here.

BSNA’s ‘Better care through better nutrition’ infographic can be viewed here