New research by the Malnutrition Task Force reveals that only half (51 per cent) of health professionals thought malnutrition was a priority in their organisations. Only 47 per cent also felt confident that their knowledge and skills were sufficient to help people most at risk.
The survey ‘Experiences of Patient Malnutrition’ by Dods Research also shows that half (50 per cent) of the professionals interviewed felt unsure about what services or support were available in their community.
About 1.3 million people older people in the UK suffer from malnutrition, with the vast majority (93%) of those living in the community.
Malnutrition is associated with several long term conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, dementia and swallowing problems (dysphagia) as well as physical disability and social factors which can affect people in later life, such as bereavement, loneliness and isolation.
- Malnourished older people also:
- Visit their GP twice as often
- Experience more hospital admissions and have longer lengths of stay
- Have an increased risk of infection and antibiotic use
- Have longer recovery times from surgery and illness, and increased risk of death
Furthermore, nearly one third (32%) of older people admitted to hospital or a care home from the community are already at risk of malnutrition, as are half of patients admitted to hospital from care homes.
The Malnutrition Task Force was established in 2012 to reduce preventable malnutrition amongst older people. In 2013, the Task Force was awarded a grant by the Department of Health to develop a programme, known as the Malnutrition Prevention Programme, as part of their response to the Francis Inquiry. This Programme set out to demonstrate what could be achieved by working together across the NHS, social care, public health and with voluntary sector organisations.
Pilot sites were established in Salford, Lambeth and Southwark, Gateshead, Purbeck in Dorset and Kent to carry this out.
Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of The Malnutrition Task Force and Chairman of Age UK said:
“Eating and drinking well is a vital part of maintaining good health and independence. And while we generally think of malnutrition as a problem for low income countries, the sad fact is that many older people in the UK today are malnourished or at risk of becoming so.
“Malnutrition is a really knotty problem. While many of the interventions are relatively simple, to be really effective they require a wide range of services to come together, recognise the problem and each make a contribution towards tackling it.
“However, at the moment the sad fact is in too many areas this isn’t happening. Malnutrition is often overlooked and isn’t tackled very effectively at any point in the care journey, so many people slip through the net and never receive proper help.
“The pilots we ran last year have shown us just what can be achieved when we all work together to put malnutrition at the top of the agenda. The challenge now is to make sure that every area steps up to ensure that all older people are well nourished and get the help they need.”
The Malnutrition Task Force are hosting an event in Parliament on the 10 February to celebrate the success of the pilots and welcome the launch of NHS Commissioning Guidance.