More than 400 people have starved to death in the West Midlands in the last decade, it has been revealed.
New figures show that more people have died from malnutrition in this region than any other part of the UK in the past ten years.
A total of 409 mainly elderly people have died, while the number of patients admitted to hospitals with malnutrition has also been growing year on year.
The figures, released by the UK Statistics Authority, follow a report from the Royal College of Nursing which found that patients are at risk while in hospital because there are not enough nurses to ensure they are properly fed.
According to the figures, 380 people died in West Midlands hospitals between 1997 and 2007, 22 elderly people died in private care homes and seven people died in public care homes, during the same period. Almost half the respondents – 46 per cent – to the RCN poll last year said there was a lack of staff to help patients who need help with eating and drinking, while 42 per cent said they did not have time to help.
Coun Deirdre Alden (Con, Edgbaston), who is chair of the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “This is something that we have looked at on the committee and it is very concerning.
“We have heard evidence about food that is left at the end of the bed in hospitals, but there is no help available for people who can’t physically eat because of their illness.
“Staff say they will come back to help feed them when they have a chance, but this can be up to an hour later when the food is cold.
“The other problem is with the quality of the food that is provided. With this in mind it is very disappointing that the new University Hospital Birmingham does not even have a full production kitchen. This is a brand new hospital, but food will have to be shipped in. This will have an impact on the quality of the food and also the issue of malnutrition.”
Patricia Marquis, West Midlands regional director of RCN, said: “The RCN recognises that there is a problem with nutrition in all care settings and we have been running a nutrition campaign and are working with a number of PCT’s, trusts and care home to help them recognise this important problem and looking at ways to improving it.”
Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said: “A healthy diet and nutritional care are absolutely crucial if patients are to make a swift recovery, yet the Government is presiding over a culture of carelessness and rising deaths.
“There can be no excuses. The least that patients should be able to expect is to be fed properly when they go into hospital for treatment.
“But unfortunately NHS frontline staff are often overburdened by red tape and paperwork and are consistently being spread too thin and too wide across the service.
“They must be released to do the job that they are there to do, to help people.”