Meals in hospitals leaving elderly population dangerously close to malnutrition

Meals in hospitals leaving elderly population dangerously close to malnutrition

With more and more of us getting older the stark reality is that at some point we are going to be spending a spell or two in hospital.

When we do we expect to be given the utmost standard of care and to be looked after as if we were at home.

With nursing improving, and friendly wards reappearing left, right and centre it looks as if hospital care may finally be going in the right direction.

But there is one drawback which has always blighted any stay – the food.

The meals provided in hospitals are leaving our elderly population dangerously close to malnutrition, they are unappetising, unappealing and unsustainable.

Incredibly six out of every 10 patients say families or friends are forced to bring in food because that supplied by the NHS is of such poor quality.

And in further proof of the dire situation, our government has been known to spend more money on nutritional supplements for hospital patients than on food served to them during their stay.

The situation is wholly unnecessary.

Here at the Mature Times we are joining forces with food group ‘Produced in Kent’ to call upon the government and local authorities to pressurise hospitals into using local and freshly cooked foods on its menus.

A whopping 50 per cent of hospital food is thrown away yearly because patients cannot, and in many cases will not, eat the meals provided.

Those figures mean 13 million meals a year are binned, this simply cannot, and should not, be allowed to happen, not in this day and age.

In Britain we should be celebrating our local produce and using it in absolutely everything. We have a rich history of growing fantastic produce, why do we not use it?

If we can do it in schools for children,we can do it in hospitals for patients.

Successive governments have spent more than £50 million of taxpayers’ moneyFood for thought in providing guidance and advice on how to improve the food offering.

Celebrity chefs and reams of press releases have been employed, TV programmes have been made, politicians have made speeches and yet still one in 10 older people remain at a risk of malnutrition in the UK.

In 2008 140,000 patients left hospital malnourished, double the figure of the previous decade. This is nothing short of a national scandal.

Up to 40% of those entering care homes are at risk of malnutrition,with those suffering from dementia raising to a huge 60%.

We need to act now.

We are going backwards, the costs are mounting in both financial and human terms, but governing bodies are ignoring the simple solution.

More should, and could, be made of local and regional sourcing of foods, where the hospitals still have kitchens, they can do this themselves.

Where the catering is outsourced they need to demand that the company with the contract fulfuls a requirement to source as much as they can from within the catchment area of the local hospital.

Whether it be using strawberries from Kent, cheese from Somerset, Aberdeen Angus from Scotland, or Welsh lamb, we should be making use of them all. Sadly, hospitals argue it is just too expensive, but evidence shows otherwise.

Ed Martin, from Produced in Kent, said: “Local and freshly cooked food is more nutritious, less needs to be in a portion.

“It really is a case of less is more, more than tends to get eaten is being placed on someone’s plate, leading to more waste. Better nutrition helps in faster and fuller recovery and a real gain can be had by the hospital in early bed release. These are all significant and measurable positive outcomes for the NHS, and the gains keep coming.

“By using local businesses as an essential part of the supply chain, more local jobs are created and sustained. Money is recycled in the local economy leading to job opportunities and investments.

“We should, as a society and as a nation, be proud enough and determined enough to say we can feed our own vulnerable and sick people, using our own local resources and benefit the wider economy and society in to the bargain. It is our natural capital. We should use it.

“Local is better. Less is more and more local is very much better. For everyone.”

If hospital food improves, areas of significant deprivation can be helped and in turn this can reduce some of the excessive strain on an already overworked and underfunded health service.

An estimated 23 % of the UK population will be over 65 in just 10 years,and a further 3.2 million will be aged over 80.

The way we are going the problem of malnutrition looks set to become even more acute – needlessly. This needs to change.

To join our campaign please write to us at or post your comments.

by Laura Heads, Mature Times deputy editor