Dr. Trevor Smith, President of the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN), talks about the serious risk of malnutrition and what can be done to improve specialist care in the NHS and social sector, identifying four key recommendations to support nutritional care in the UK.
Disease-related malnutrition (DRM) poses a serious public health challenge and is expected to increase with the ageing population. It is a complex syndrome, resulting from inadequate intake of nutrients that does not meet a patient’s nutritional requirement as a result of their clinical condition. It cuts across age groups and care settings, and costs the UK an estimated £19.6 billion1 per year through more frequent general practitioner visits, longer hospital stays, longer recovery, as well as more prescriptions, increasing the strain on many parts of the NHS and social care sector.
Left untreated, malnutrition can be fatal. On average, the risk of malnutrition affects up to 29%2 of people admitted to hospitals, while half of patients admitted to hospitals from a care home are also experiencing degrees of malnutrition. DRM is also a major problem for people with a wide range of conditions including cancer, stroke, dementia, kidney disease, chronic lung disease, obesity, allergies, and certain genetic conditions, as well as people who have suffered an injury
Despite the high prevalence, there is an evident lack of focus on malnutrition for the wider healthcare system, and it is an area of health that has been historically overlooked. Seventy percent of patients at risk of DRM weigh less on discharge from hospital than when they were first admitted.3 Healthcare providers must do all they can to protect vulnerable patients, and factoring in an effective nutrition strategy to support those living with DRM is an important step for this.
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