Hospital malnourishment

February 08, 2008 2:57 PM

The Telegraph reports on an increasing number of people leaving hospital malnourished:

"The number of patients leaving hospital malnourished has almost doubled in a decade, with one in five now affected, experts said yesterday.


Some 140,000 people are discharged from hospital while underweight every year, and most are never diagnosed or treated, nutritionists warned."

This is just dismal.  Back in the nineteenth century keeping people well fed might have been a serious logistical challenge, in some developing countries it - sadly - still is.  Equally people in the UK might not choose to eat the right food and wind up malnourished.  There is no acceptable reason why people in a wealthy country like the United Kingdom in the 21st century, while their diet is provided to them by a hospital, are malnourished.


Food isn't that expensive and the National Audit Office believe (PDF) that the public sector, in general, can feed people better while spending less if if tightens up the management of its food procurement so there is no reason to see a lack of funding as the problem.  The NHS can find room in its doubled budget to feed people properly. 


The problem is that the way the NHS is organised encourages healthcare professionals to ignore the issue.  As monopolies NHS Trusts don't have to appeal to patients but to politicians and Civil Servants.  Working in a bureaucratic machine they have to respond to Whitehall's priorities.  Taking the time to feed a patient or putting management effort into improving the quality of meals is a distraction from the unending job of meeting the targets and improving the statistics that are the only way centralised politics can understand quality and efficiency.


Malnourishment in hospital should be consigned to history in the UK by now.  It hasn't been because, while medical science is constantly innovating, the organisation of healthcare delivery is failing to progress.  We need to learn lessons from other countries in Europe that avoid the centralisation and political management that results in organisational failure in the NHS and malnourishment in hospitals.

The Telegraph reports on an increasing number of people leaving hospital malnourished:

"The number of patients leaving hospital malnourished has almost doubled in a decade, with one in five now affected, experts said yesterday.


Some 140,000 people are discharged from hospital while underweight every year, and most are never diagnosed or treated, nutritionists warned."

This is just dismal.  Back in the nineteenth century keeping people well fed might have been a serious logistical challenge, in some developing countries it - sadly - still is.  Equally people in the UK might not choose to eat the right food and wind up malnourished.  There is no acceptable reason why people in a wealthy country like the United Kingdom in the 21st century, while their diet is provided to them by a hospital, are malnourished.


Food isn't that expensive and the National Audit Office believe (PDF) that the public sector, in general, can feed people better while spending less if if tightens up the management of its food procurement so there is no reason to see a lack of funding as the problem.  The NHS can find room in its doubled budget to feed people properly. 


The problem is that the way the NHS is organised encourages healthcare professionals to ignore the issue.  As monopolies NHS Trusts don't have to appeal to patients but to politicians and Civil Servants.  Working in a bureaucratic machine they have to respond to Whitehall's priorities.  Taking the time to feed a patient or putting management effort into improving the quality of meals is a distraction from the unending job of meeting the targets and improving the statistics that are the only way centralised politics can understand quality and efficiency.


Malnourishment in hospital should be consigned to history in the UK by now.  It hasn't been because, while medical science is constantly innovating, the organisation of healthcare delivery is failing to progress.  We need to learn lessons from other countries in Europe that avoid the centralisation and political management that results in organisational failure in the NHS and malnourishment in hospitals.

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