Hospital patients dying from starvation and thirst as nurses are over-stretched

On my second day as a student nurse I was tasked by Sister with feeding a patient.

She was a lovely lady with both arms in plaster, so clearly couldn’t manage for herself.

But my fellow students and the nursing auxiliaries were going around all the other elderly patients – some with dementia – making sure they’d finished their lunch.

We also had to make a note on their charts of everything they’d eaten and drunk during the day. And that gave us the chance to chat regularly and check everything was OK. That was 1982.

But this week it was revealed that three patients a day are dying from starvation or thirst or choking on NHS wards.

In 2017, 936 hospital deaths were attributed to one of those factors, with starvation the primary cause of death in 74 cases.

And the Office for National Statistics data reveals malnutrition deaths are 34 per cent higher than in 2013.

It’s because our dedicated, over-stretched nurses are simply too busy to check if the sick and elderly are getting nourishment. I know nurses who will weep at these sickening statistics.

Nurses who go thirsty during a shift because they haven’t got time for a toilet break.

Who get repeated cystitis because they’re dehydrated or carry glucose tablets so they don’t faint when they miss meals.

Nurses who don’t have time to care. Campaigners say too many vulnerable people are being “forgotten to death” in NHS hospitals and urgent action is needed to identify and treat malnutrition.

And it can be done.

In a recent pilot scheme the number of deaths among elderly patients with a fractured hip was HALVED by simply having someone to feed them.

Six NHS trusts employed a junior staff member for each ward tasked with getting 500 extra calories a day into them.

More survived and the patients spent an average five days less in hospital, unblock- ing beds and saving more than £1,400 each.

It wasn’t just the calories though – it helped keep their morale up.

Because, as one consultant said: “Food is a very, very cheap drug that’s extremely powerful.”

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