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Nurses not confident about relatives' hospital care

Published on 29 August 2010 11:30 PM

Nearly a third of nurses not confident that their malnourished relatives entering hospital would be noticed

- Older patients Still Hungry to be Heard -

Nearly a third (29.4 per cent) of nurses are not confident that it would be noticed if a relative of theirs was malnourished when entering hospital, according to findings released today as part of Age UK's Still Hungry to be Heard campaign. The results spark fresh fears that older people are still being left to go hungry in hospital.

Recognition of the problem of malnutrition has increased since Age UK's Hungry to be Heard campaign launched in 2006. Today marks the launch of the Still Hungry to be Heard report, which highlights that insufficient action is being taken to tackle malnutrition in people in later life and provides solutions to solve the issue. Shockingly less than half of hospitals screen older patients for malnutrition on admission to hospital and only a third of hospitals screen patients during their stay . Just five per cent screen people in later life on discharge.

Monitoring of malnutrition in hospitals is poor with existing data revealing that 180,000 patients are still leaving hospital malnourished each year and 239 die of malnutrition during their stay. The research for Age UK, carried out by ICM , shows that less than half of nurses think their hospital screens older in-patients often enough. 71 per cent of nurses claim there are barriers to screening with lack of time, other priorities and training being the most common constraints.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director at Age UK, said: 'It's extremely worrying that nurses still don't feel confident that a fundamental problem such as malnourishment will be picked up when an older person enters hospital. While recognition of the issue is high, not enough is being done to ensure that words are transferring into action on the wards. It is vital that the Government, Care Quality Commission (CQC) and NHS trusts fulfil their role in tackling this serious issue. The Government must introduce compulsory monitoring so that this issue can be effectively tackled. Age UK is also calling for the CQC to undertake a comprehensive review of hospital mealtimes. This way hospitals not taking steps to effectively stop malnutrition will be exposed.'

June Whitfield, 84, actress and ambassador for Age UK, said: 'Going into hospital can be a traumatic experience for those of us who are older. Everyone should just be able to concentrate on getting better, without worrying about fundamental care needs such as food and nutrition and whether or not we are getting the help we need at mealtimes. The Still Hungry to be Heard campaign is raising the profile of this important issue and provides practical steps to help put a stop to people in later life going hungry in hospital.'

As well as the impact on patient health, wellbeing and mortality there is also a financial impact of malnutrition with the cost to the NHS at £7.3 billion per year . This is due to longer or avoidable hospital stays, the need for more medication and higher risk of infection. In order to improve the quality of care, wards must tackle the issue of malnutrition. The Still Hungry to be Heard report continues to push the adoption of Age UK's seven recommended steps* which provide simple but effective solutions wards can adopt to ensure people in later life get the food and help they need at mealtimes.

Four years ago Age UK launched its ‘Hungry to be Heard' campaign because too many older people were malnourished in hospitals. People in later life were either admitted to hospital malnourished and nothing was done about it, or became malnourished in hospital because they didn't get the right food or the help needed to eat it. In the past four years politicians have acknowledged the seriousness of this issue and many NHS trusts have taken steps to improve mealtimes for older patients. However, more needs to be done.

Guidelines state that hospitals are supposed to screen people in later life for malnutrition on arrival and during their stay. Currently, there is inconsistency from hospital to hospital and between wards. Some patients are screened inaccurately; others are screened accurately but no action is taken, and some are not screened at all.

The Government, the CQC and NHS trusts need to ensure malnutrition is tackled on wards. In addition to the seven steps Age UK's Still Hungry to be Heard campaign calls for the Government to introduce compulsory recording of malnutrition rates in hospitals. To date, there has been no accurate data to show how many patients are going into hospital malnourished and how many come out of hospital malnourished. It is also vital that the CQC undertakes an urgent review of hospital mealtimes.

If you would like to find out more about Still Hungry to be Heard or to request a copy of the report, call 0800 169 87 87, visit or email

- ENDS -

Media contact: Ashley Cox
Telephone: 020 8765 7513
Out-of-hours: 07071 243 243

Notes to editors

* The seven steps of Still Hungry to be Heard are:

  1. Hospital staff must listen to us, our relatives and our carers.
  2. All ward staff must become food-aware.
  3. Hospital staff must follow their own professional codes and guidance from other bodies.
  4. We must be assessed for the signs or risk of malnourishment on admission and at regular intervals during our hospital stay.
  5. Hospitals should introduce ‘protected mealtimes'.
  6. Hospitals should implement a ‘red tray system and ensure that it works in practice.
  7. Hospitals should use trained volunteers where appropriate.


  1. ‘Nearly a third of nurses' refers to 29.4 per cent (294 out of 1,000) of nurses polled. ‘Not confident' refers to those nurses who answered either ‘not very confident' or ‘not at all confident'.

    ICM Research interviewed a national sample of 1000 hospital nurses routinely treating patients over 65. Interviews were conducted online between 23rd July and 19th August 2010. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For further information visit
  2. Less than half of hospitals screen on admission for malnutrition refers to 44 per cent (436 out of 1,000) of nurses polled
  3. A third screen patients at least once during their stay (other than on admission, entry to the ward or on discharge) refers to 34% (341 out of 1,000 nurses)
  4. This refers to 53 out of a 1,000 nurses polled = 5 %
  6. Nutrition Action Plan Delivery Board End of Year Progress Report, 2009
  7. ICM Research interviewed a national sample of 1000 hospital nurses routinely treating patients over 65. Interviews were conducted online between 23rd July and 19th August 2010. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For further information visit
  8. Less than half think their hospitals screen often enough refers to 48 per cent (478 out of 1,000) of nurses polled.
  9. 71 per cent refers to 712 nurses out of 1,000. The reference to the barriers to screening can be broken down as lack of time (51 per cent), other tasks taking priority (47 per cent) and lack of training (31 per cent) being the most common constraints.
  10. Malnutrition among Older People in the Community: Policy Recommendations for Change, European Nutrition for Health Alliance and British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 2006

Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged. The Age UK family includes Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI.

Age UK is inspired by the belief that it can improve the lives of people in later life. It celebrates ageing and believes it presents unprecedented opportunities and challenges at home and abroad. Age UK will challenge ageist prejudice in society, provide services that address market failures and support the public and private sectors to design age-friendly products and services. It will support people to remain in their own homes through campaigning and practical services and its Information and Advice service will offer millions of people support on a range of issues from claiming benefits to staying fit and healthy.

Age UK will fund biomedical research that helps tackle the ill health and poor quality of life that are too common as people age. Working with over 350 partners across the country, Age UK helps influence local decisions and delivers the most appropriate services. Its network of over 500 shops will act as a focal point for the local community, providing information and help with local services. Age UK works across the globe as well as in the UK, with its international partner, Help Age International, championing older people's rights and needs and as an active member of the DEC.

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Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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