Sir: Sadly we must support your report that many frail older people are not getting the food and drink which they need while in hospital ("NHS patients being left to starve", 3 February). Here are a few quotations from many letters and phone calls we have received:
"My father when in hospital told me that he had not eaten for two days because food had been placed out of reach. Thereafter I made sure I visited at the necessary times."
"When I visited my mother the lady in the bed next to her grabbed my hand and said `Stay with me as I am so hungry - if they see someone here they feed me, otherwise they don't.' "
"My mother, 92 and very handicapped physically and mentally. Unable to turn herself over in bed or sit up. After lunch, day after day, and in the heat wave my mother's cup of tea was left on the locker. My mother was also diabetic and frequently thirsty. It upset me that she could see the drink but was unable to reach it. Mentally and physically she was not capable of asking for help."
The problem is far too widespread to be blamed on the shortcomings of particular nurses (if indeed feeding patients is still their responsibility). There appears to be an organisational breakdown, with meals now being delivered and collected by catering staff, with no clear arrangements as to who is responsible for helping people who are too physically or mentally frail to feed themselves, nor staffing time allowed to give priority to helping them. In addition, equipment for helping people feed themselves is no longer readily available in wards, but is kept in occupational therapy departments with forms and sometimes internal payments necessary to access it.
Our organisation is one for relatives and friends of older people in homes and in the few remaining hospital long-stay wards. Hospitals are not therefore our prime focus, but it is a national disgrace that this problem can exist, especially when one considers that some of the most vulnerable will not have been eating properly before their admission.
The Relatives Association