Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 13:12 UK

Big rise in NHS feeding concerns

Hospital ward
Making sure patients are properly fed is a big issue

The number of incidents related to poor nutritional care reported by NHS staff almost doubled over three years.

In 2005, there were 15,000 "serious incidents" in England which harmed, or could have harmed patients - in 2007 this rose to 29,000.

The National Patient Safety Agency said this was due to better reporting, and included procedures such as feeding tube insertion.

It said the most incidents had resulted in little or no harm to patients.

This is a further disgraceful statistic from a government which has failed patients and the public
Stephen O'Brien
Shadow Health Minister

The figures were published in response to a Parliamentary Question by the Conservatives, prompting criticism from its Shadow Health Minister, Stephen O'Brien.

He said: "This is a further disgraceful statistic from a government which has failed patients and the public."

Staff have been encouraged to report any untoward incidents anonymously since 2003, and the NPSA says that the numbers of reports it receives about all NHS care has risen at roughly the same rate.

The nutrition figures show bigger rises in some areas compared with others - reports tripled in the north east region, while in the north west, they rose by 46%.

The issue of patient nutrition is a major problem for the NHS, with the consequences of malnourishment and dehydration costing it an estimated extra £1.7 billion every year.

Vulnerable patients

The British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN) carried out a survey in September 2007 which revealed that one in four people admitted to hospital or a care home were at risk of malnutrition.

A missed meal in hospital is just as much of a risk to patient safety than missing medication for a patient¿s recovery
Patrick South
Age Concern

Many nurses responding to a Royal College of Nursing questionnaire said that they simply did not have enough time in their day to oversee the feeding and hydration of all patients who were unable to feed themselves.

A spokesman for the NPSA said that the majority of all incidents had caused no harm, or a low level of harm, to patients, and it had responded to them by issuing information to trusts about common problems.

He added: "A growth in incident reporting reflects more NHS trusts connecting to the system and a greater willingness by NHS clinical staff to report incidents so that there is meaningful learning, which helps prevent further similar incidents occurring.

"This is an indication that there is an evolving and growing patient safety culture in the NHS which is positive and that this growth is evident in all regions."

Patrick South, from Age Concern, which has campaigned on hospital nutrition, said that the issue should be a top priority for the NHS.

He said: "A missed meal in hospital is just as much of a risk to patient safety than missing medication for a patient's recovery.

"These figures show that NHS staff are concerned that people are not receiving good nutritional care in hospital."

Charlotte Potter, of Help the Aged, said better reporting of errors was a good thing.

"If we know more about what?s going wrong, we are in a better position to address the problem.

"However, nearly 30,000 errors relating to poor nutrition in hospitals is shocking.

"Nutrition is the bedrock of good care and recovery from illness - older people are at particular risk of malnutrition and will struggle to respond to treatment or recover well if they are malnourished."




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