Malnutrition in Hospitals

I spotted an article recently in the Health Supplement of the Irish Times about some research carried out into the causes of malnutrition in hospitalised elderly patients.

Malnutrition is known to be common among elderly patients hospitalised with acute illness, because they often have little appetite and don’t eat much. Such patients could benefit from higher caloric intake“.

I don’t quite understand why it takes research to point out these most obvious of facts? Surely it’s common sense that sick people, both young and old, need good nutrition to help to maximise their powers of recovery. I’ve touched on this subject before here about the elderly being unable to fend for themselves in hospital.

I would like to add the following observations about the food served up in Irish hospitals, based on my own experience:-

1. A hospital diet looks totally unappetising and is very boring. There is no variation in the presentation of the food. A hospital salad is a good example – it rarely strays from cold meat, half a boiled egg, tomato wedges with some coleslaw, all sitting on some soggy lettuce and served with sliced bread. This is okay the first time it comes round but when you get exactly the same thing day after day – even the location of the food on the plate never changes – it becomes a total turn-off. The hot food menu is just as repetitive and has little to recommend it. Sick people should at least be tempted to eat.

2. Hospital food should be high in nutritional value. You could hardly call the daily offerings of white sliced bread, cornflakes, over-cooked veg, and jelly and ice-cream nutritional! How about some freshly baked brown bread/rolls, some tasty cheese or some fresh fruit with every meal? What about the 5 servings of fruit and veg recommended daily?

3. There is little supervision of the elderly at meal times due to the problem of understaffed wards. I have often witnessed food being served up to frail, elderly people who don’t have the energy or inclination to eat. By the time a member of staff has noticed the untouched plateful, the food has gone cold and is inedible. High calorie drinks are offered in addition but they do not replace the enjoyment or benefit of proper food. Only the sickest get offered the expertise of a hospital dietician but even they are limited by what they can offer.

4. The food served in the hospital canteen for hospital staff (and healthy people) is definitely better than that dished up to the in-patients. It seems that patients are expected to either (a) do without (b) resort to asking relatives to bring in some decent food or (c) if they are well enough, make a trip to buy food in the snack bars which decorate the front halls of most hospitals.

5. Huge amounts of hospital food are left uneaten and wasted. Surely there is a loud message in this? I-N-E-D-I-B-L-E!

Our health service lacks direction, it’s like a ship with no rudder. There is little or no common sense employed in our large hospitals. Instead, it seems, it’s all about cost cutting measures to meet the targets imposed by an under-resourced health service.

Is it any wonder then that research shows that those most vulnerable in our hospitals, suffer malnutrition? And all our Minister for Health has to offer in return is promises of better care for the á la carte brigade in the co-located hospitals. Grrr…

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