Malnutrition deaths in hospitals in England and Wales at highest level for a decade

Malnutrition 'is a huge hidden problem in our communities'

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Monday 05 February 2018 19:27 GMT
Sixty-six death certificates list malnutrition as the underlying cause of death
Sixty-six death certificates list malnutrition as the underlying cause of death

The number of people dying in hospital as a result of malnutrition has hit its highest level for a decade, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Death certificates from England and Wales show that malnutrition was listed as the primary cause in a total of 66 deaths in 2016.

This compares to 43 people in 2011, 55 in 2013, and 59 people in 2015.

It was the underlying cause of death or a contributory factor in 351 deaths in NHS hospitals in England and Wales.

But while these were the most severe cases, charities said it is shocking that "more than a million" people are at risk of malnourishment.

Labour’s shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth submitted a written question asking how many patients were recorded as having died as a result of malnutrition in NHS hospitals in each of the last 10 years.

In a letter to Mr Ashworth, national statistician John Pullinger, chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority, 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.

“In these cases, malnutrition may be recorded on the death certificate as a condition that has contributed to the death, but it will not be the underlying cause.”

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.

“Many of these people will eventually come into hospital or a care home – in fact nearly one in three of all older people admitted to hospital are already malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

“It is vital that they get the additional help and support they need to eat and drink while they are able.”

Additional reporting by PA

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