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‘Poverty is causing vulnerable people … to go hungry and undernourished,’ shadow health secretary says [Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images].

‘Poverty is causing vulnerable people … to go hungry and undernourished,’ shadow health secretary says [Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images].

This is a perennial – one of those stories that comes back to haunt us every year.

When I covered it last year, we were being told that 43 hospital trusts had recorded more than 2,000 malnutrition cases, we were told that parents were going hungry in order to feed their children.

But there are more than 43 NHS trusts and, if we take the figures at face value, then the average hospital stay of 22 or 23 days means more than 8,200 people may have been treated for malnutrition in 2015-16.

Now the claim is that elderly people are the largest affected group, due to the loss of meals on wheels services in many local authority areas.

Personally, I think this phenomenon deserves far greater scrutiny than the Department of Health seems willing to give it.

161127-malnutrition-stats

Doesn’t anyone find it suspicious that hospital admissions for malnutrition started to rise in the year that Employment and Support Allowance, with its accompanying – and cruel – Work Capability Assessment test, was introduced?

We are seeing a huge rise in malnutrition due to Conservative Government policy, causing a preventable demand for hospital beds and putting a preventable strain on the National Health Service.

Any government worth a bean would take action to halt any increase in malnutrition among its citizens – especially if there was even the slightest suggestion that it was a political policy that had caused it.

The Conservative Party seems to revel in the ill-health it is causing.

You’ll recall that, when the Tories were considering re-defining poverty, their chosen indicators were “entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency”. Malnutrition was nowhere to be seen on their list and therefore would not have been measured or included in poverty statistics.

But then, it isn’t included in the figures now.

Tory policies have necessitated the loss of meals on wheels services in areas where the local council can no longer afford them. Tory policies have ensured that poor families do not have enough money to pay for a roof over their heads and food for every family member. Tory policies have increased the harshness of ESA decisions while cutting the amount payable.

Tory policies are cutting the number of NHS beds available to patients and the quality of the service they receive.

Can anybody offer a reasonable excuse for their reluctance to change those policies?

The number of hospital beds in England taken up by patients being treated for malnutrition has almost trebled over the last 10 years, in what charities say shows the “genuinely shocking” extent of hunger and poor diet.

Official figures reveal that people with malnutrition accounted for 184,528 hospital bed days last year, a huge rise on 65,048 in 2006-07. The sharp increase is adding to the pressures on hospitals, which are already struggling with record levels of overcrowding.

The Department of Health figures showed that the number of bed days accounted for by someone with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition rose from 128,361 in 2010-11, the year the coalition came to power, to 184,528 last year – a 61% rise over five years.

Figures are not available for exactly how many patients accounted for the 184,528 bed days last year, but information supplied to Ashworth by the House of Commons library shows that 57% of the patients were women and that 42% were over-65s.

Such patients only account for one in 256 of all hospital bed days, or 0.4% of the 47.3m total, but the financial cost is considerable as each bed costs the NHS an average of £400 a day to staff and given the condition each spell in hospital lasts an average of 22 to 23 days.

Critics have said the upward trend is a result of rising poverty, deep cutbacks in recent years to meals on wheels services for the elderly and inadequate social care support, especially for older people.

Freedom of information requests submitted to local councils in England early last year by the then shadow care minister Liz Kendall found that 220,000 fewer people were receiving meals on wheels in late 2014 than in 2010, a fall of 63%.

Research by the National Association of Care Catering found that only 48% of local councils still provided meals on wheels, compared to 66% in 2014. Only 17% of councils in the north-west of England still do so, and 91% of providers expect the provision to fall further in the next year.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, unearthed the figures in a response to a recent parliamentary question submitted to the health minister Nicola Blackwood.

“These figures paint a grim picture of Britain under the Conservatives,” he said. “Real poverty is causing vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, to go hungry and undernourished so much so that they end up in hospital.”

Source: Huge rise in hospital beds in England taken up by people with malnutrition | Society | The Guardian

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