Number of hospital patients who are malnourished when they die increasing

The number of people dying in hospital while malnourished has increased by half in 10 years- affecting more than 2,500 people in a decade.Number of hospital patients who are malnourished when they die increasingWhile not recorded as the cause of death, the “effects of hunger” were noted on the death certificates of 301 people in England in 2010, up from 195 in 2001.

The total of more than 2,500 over the decade covered deaths that occurred in NHS hospitals and is likely to be an underestimate because deaths in nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals or in the patients’ homes were not included.

There has been fierce criticism of nursing care of the elderly in hospital, with patients reported to have been drinking water from flower vases because they were so thirsty, and meals regularly being left out of reach.

However, malnutrition can be a side–effect of underlying conditions such as cancer and dementia, and patients who are nearing the end of their lives are often found to be unable or unwilling to eat.

The figures were disclosed in a parliamentary answer to Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary.

Stephen Penneck, the director–general of the Office for National Statistics, provided the answers on behalf of the Cabinet Office. He said: “Malnutrition may be recorded as the underlying cause of death, but this is a rare occurrence.

“The ‘effects of hunger’ is never recorded as the underlying cause of death, because it is defined by the international classification of diseases as a ‘secondary cause’ only. Consequently, deaths with any mention of either of these causes on the death certificate have been provided.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Many patients who suffer or die from malnutrition and dehydration are admitted to hospital with these conditions. They also often have underlying health conditions, like cancer, that make them more susceptible to these problems.”

She added: “However, every NHS patient has the right to expect that they are looked after properly in hospital. It is unacceptable if patients go hungry or are malnourished.

“That’s why the Prime Minister recently highlighted the importance of nursing rounds dedicated to giving senior nurses more time to check that patients are comfortable, are helped to eat and drink, and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”


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