GPs are referring a vastly increasing number of patients to hosptial due to malnutrition, official statistics have suggested, with the number of patients discharged from English hospitals after being treated for malnutrution rising 84% during the five years up until 2012/13.
Figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that a total of 6,691 patients were treated with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition in hospital in 2012/13, a rise from 3,633 in 2008/09.
This comes after a Pulse survey revealed earlier this year that one-in-six GPs had had to refer patients to food banks in the last 12 months, and GP leaders have said that this is a result of growing poverty and a poorer diet.
The largest rise was in the north west of England where cases rose by 127% from 440 to 999, followed by 123% in Yorkshire and the Humber region, where there was a rise from 297 to 663.
Other areas where cases doubled included London and the south west and only the south central area saw a decrease, with 11% fewer cases in 2012/13, at 355 compared with 401 in 2008/09.
Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the BMA and a retired GP, said he saw two main reasons why GPs were referring more patients suffering from malnutrition.
He said: ‘First, we are not eating the right kind of food. Processed foods and sugar counts for a large proportion of people’s food intake and these are empty calories, a false sense of filling ourselves.’
‘The second reason is austerity. Now some three million children are living in poverty in the UK and people are increasingly relying on thousands of food banks that have had to be set up across the country. People don’t have the money to buy real, nutritious food.’
He said a third reason was that people were drinking too much alcohol, leading to them neglecting their diet.
Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour shadow health minister, said: ‘These figures reveal a national scandal that has unfolded on this Government’s watch. But their response to it will appear complacent. Living costs are rising and people are struggling to eat as often and as healthily as before – seen in the growing use of food banks too.
‘The Government should get a grip on the rise in malnutrition cases and the situation driving people into food poverty.’
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: ‘We want everybody to live a healthy life and a good diet is essential. The rise in malnutrition could be partly due to better diagnosis and detection by health professionals of people who are at risk.’
‘We want to reduce levels of malnutrition, particularly amongst frail and elderly people. We are working with Age UK on a £500,000 project, which aims to tackle the issue in a range of health and care settings.’
‘We’ve also given local authorities a £5.4bn budget over two years to help them manage public health issues, including malnutrition, in their areas.’
In February this year a Pulse survey of 522 GPs found that 16% had been asked to refer patients to food banks, with 84% saying they had not. Many charities now require a referral to supply food to the needy, but GPs have warned it placed them in the ‘impossible’ situation of having to decide who should be fed and who should not without sufficient knowledge