One malnourished person is dying in hospital almost every day, ‘shameful’ figures reveal.
A total of 351 patients in England and Wales had malnutrition listed on their death certificate as an underlying cause or contributory factor in 2016.
The figure is 18 per cent up on the 297 recorded the year before – and 31 per cent higher than a decade ago. Over the past decade, 3,022 people – the vast majority of them elderly – died with malnutrition listed as a factor.
Last night charities said the statistics were ‘shocking’ and demanded that hospitals did more to ensure vulnerable elderly patients received help eating and drinking.
The figures, collated by the Office for National Statistics, show that in 2016, 66 people had malnutrition or the effects of hunger listed on their death certificate as an ‘underlying cause’. Another 285 people had malnutrition mentioned as a contributory factor.
In 2007, the figures were 53 as an underlying cause and 215 as contributory.
The findings come five years after the inquiry into the Mid Staffs health scandal, where hundreds of patients died amid appalling failings in care, with patients left starving and thirsty.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: ‘It is shocking that more than one million older people suffer from or are at risk of malnutrition in our country. It is a huge hidden problem in our communities.
‘There are many reasons why people become malnourished – poor health can make it harder for people to shop and cook, many lack the help they need at home to eat and drink properly, and for some, loneliness, isolation and depression may mean they simply lose motivation to eat well.
Two months ago it emerged that dozens of elderly people were dying of malnutrition after being neglected in care homes. Malnourishment weakens the immune system, meaning patients are less likely to cope with potentially-fatal diseases such as flu and pneumonia.
Labour, which uncovered the statistics, demanded an inquiry into malnutrition in society.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘This rise in deaths because of malnutrition is absolutely shocking for one of the richest nations on the planet. I believe we need a full inquiry into malnutrition in society.
In a letter to Mr Ashworth, national statistician John Pullinger said: ‘Malnutrition may be recorded as the underlying cause of death, but this is a rare occurrence.
‘More commonly, malnutrition or “effects of hunger” may be recorded on the death certificate as a contributory factor, but not as the underlying cause. Those who die with the condition are usually already very ill.
‘For example, someone with malnutrition may have cancer of the digestive tract, which means they cannot absorb nutrients; they may have suffered from a stroke or have advanced dementia which can cause difficulties chewing and swallowing; or they may abuse alcohol and so not eat properly.
A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘As the UK statistics authority notes, it is rare for malnutrition to be cited in relation to deaths and the causes can be complex, with many people already extremely ill when they are admitted to hospital.