Nurses 'too busy' to help patients eat

Nine out of ten nurses say that they do not always have time to help patients who need assistance with eating, a study has revealed.

The charity Age Concern said that a lack of nursing time and a failure by hospitals to introduce simple safeguards has hit the most vulnerable patients.

The charity said that statistics showed that six out of ten older patients are at risk of becoming malnourished or their situation getting worse while in hospital. The figures were worse for patients over 80, as they had a five times higher prevalence of malnutrition while in hospital than those under the age of 50.

Malnutrition is estimated to cost the UK over £7.3 billion per year - much more than obesity. Malnourished patients stay in hospital for longer, are three times as likely to develop complications during surgery and have a higher mortality rate.

Age Concern has launched a national campaign, 'Hungry to be Heard' in order to highlight the problem.

A report by the charity made a series of recommendations aimed at preventing avoidable malnutrition in older patients. These included: staff becoming 'food aware'; regular assessment of older people for signs of malnourishment during their stay in hospital; the introduction of 'protected mealtimes', where all non-urgent activity is suspended; and the implementation of a 'red tray system' to help identify patients who need special help.

Gordon Lishman, Director-General of Age Concern, said: "Hospitals are in danger of becoming bad for the health of older people. The majority of older patients are being denied some of the basic care they need leaving hundreds of thousands of older patients malnourished. It is shocking that the dignity of patients is being overlooked and that Age Concern has to run a campaign to fight for the implementation of such simple measures.

"From ward to board everyone needs to address this problem. Food and help with eating should be recognised by ward staff as an essential part of care and they should be given time to perform this task."


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