NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 11, 2009

Patients in Great Britain's government-run National Health Service (NHS) hospitals are far more likely to go hungry than criminals in jail, scientists warn.

They say frail and elderly patients do not get the help they need with meals, and nobody checks whether they get enough to eat.  Despite years of Government promises to tackle poor hospital nutrition, food still arrives cold, and patients often miss out because meal times clash with tests and operations.  Meanwhile, prisoners are enjoying carbohydrate-rich, low-fat foods which in many cases are better than they would have been eating on the outside.

The Daily Mail has been highlighting the scandal of old people not being fed properly in hospital as part of its Dignity for the Elderly campaign.  Hospital meals are often taken away untouched, because they are either unappetizing or are placed out of patients' reach:

  • The latest figures show 242 patients died of malnutrition in NHS hospitals in 2007 -- the highest toll in a decade.
  • More than 8,000 left hospital under-nourished -- double the figure when Labor came to power.
  • The NHS throws away 11million meals every year, and many nurses say they are too busy to help the frail eat.

Earlier this year the Mail revealed that some hospitals spend less on meals than the average prison:

  • Ten hospitals spent less on breakfast, lunch and an evening meal than the £2.12 (about U.S.$3.54) a day allocated for food by the prison service; one spent just £1 (about U.S.$1.67).
  • Although most hospitals do spend more than £2.12 (about U.S.$3.45), prisoners end up better nourished than patients, say experts from Bournemouth University.
  • After studying the food offered to inmates and across the NHS, they found patients face more barriers in getting good nutrition.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "It's incredible that so many hospitals are failing to serve healthy meals.  If prisons can serve good food then so can hospitals."

Source: Daniel Martin, "Prisoners have a better diet than Health Service hospital patients, scientists warn," Daily Mail, August 31, 2009.

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