Patients Association Chief Executive, Rachel Power, explains why patient nutrition is so important.

More than three million people in the UK are at risk of malnutrition. That’s the population of Wales, or the combined populations of Cardiff, Belfast, Dundee, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Southampton, and Wakefield.

Imagine that – three million people who are undernourished, underweight or not receiving appropriate nutrition to support and maintain their health and wellbeing.

Serious health problems

This vast number of people are at serious risk of serious health problems that can include fatigue, difficulty recovering from illness, and being more prone to infection. 

The causes of malnutrition are varied and range from not being able to afford nutritious food, physical such as having poorly fitting dentures that affect chewing, and health related. Today, as part of UK Malnutrition Awareness Week, we’re focusing on disease-related malnutrition. 

Disease-related malnutrition occurs when the body does not receive enough nutrients due to problems with eating, digestion or absorption caused by an illness. Many people who are at risk of disease-related malnutrition are unaware of the condition, and its signs and symptoms.

Patient partnership

That’s why we have worked with patients and carers to develop resources that will help people identify disease-related malnutrition and, if they think they’re affected, who to turn to for help.  The two factsheets and animation were developed in partnership with patients and carers so we’re confident they reflect the needs, understanding of malnutrition, and ability to manage nutritional health of most patients and carers. 

As an organisation, we have had a long-standing interest and commitment to ensuring patients access the food needed to keep them well and aid their recovery.

Nutrition Checklist

In 2018 we launched the Nutrition Checklist, a tool for patients, carers and health professionals to assess if elderly people were at risk of undernutrition, although it can be used with any adult.  It’s proved popular and this week we’re issued a revised version that takes on board feedback from users.

And our research into hospital food, which was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care, was designed to complement, and feed into, the work of the NHS Hospital Food Review Panel, which published its findings last year. This work was particularly important to us as a significant proportion of the patient population is nutritionally vulnerable; around a third of patients admitted to hospital are, as are two-fifths of people admitted to care homes and fifth admitted to mental health units.

For us, food is more than fuel for the body, it is a critical component of a patient’s care and recovery. We are delighted to have worked in partnership with patients, other charities, health professionals and industry, to develop these simple to use resources that have the power to make a big difference.