A 2009 BAPEN study found that malnourished patients stay in hospital longer, succumb to infection more often, visit their GP more and require longer-term care and more intensive nursing care. The study also identified additional consequences of malnourishment, such as muscle wasting, increased risk of infection, predisposition to falls and pressure ulcers, delayed recovery and reduced quality of life. BAPEN estimates that malnutrition costs the NHS £13 billion annually (2009). Of this, 52% (approx. £6 billion) relates to malnourished patients in hospital, and a further 36% (approx. £4 billion) to patients in long-term care facilities.
About 3 million people in the UK either have or are at risk of malnutrition and we know that they are more likely to die or have a prolonged stay if they go into hospital. Malnutrition and dehydration are both a cause and consequence of illness costing the NHS £billions annually and whilst cost savings to the NHS is an important issue, good food should not be seen as a ‘nice to have’ but an important part of patient treatment and recovery.
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* BAPEN is a charitable association that raises awareness of malnutrition and works to advance the nutritional care of patients and those at risk from malnutrition in the wider community. www.bapen.org.uk