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Overstretched hospitals are asking family members visiting their relatives with dementia to help out on the wards at meal times.

Dementia patients are routinely going hungry in hospital, a comprehensive audit of NHS care revealed to The Times. Some hospitals are struggling to provide meals when people need them and do not have the staff to ensure vulnerable patients actually eat what is put in front them.

A quarter of staff caring for dementia patients say they cannot feed patients properly, with some resorting to sharing their own dinner, the study by leading doctors found.

Oliver Corrado, consultant geriatrician and author of the report, argued that if families helped out more, it would also be good for those without relatives. “In a 20-bed ward, there will be maybe two or three patients who don’t have carers or carers that don’t want to be involved or can’t do it because they live too far away, and perhaps at meal times the staff could focus on them knowing the others are being well looked after,” he said.

The audit, carried out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, asked staff whether the dementia patients they cared for were properly nourished, with a quarter saying this did not happen all the time.
Dr Corrado said he was surprised by the scale of the problem, suggesting the figures “could also be telling us that food may be plated up but there’s nobody around to feed those patients”. He added: “I would want reassurance that food wasn’t being plated up and left out of reach. I think that would be my biggest concern.”

Lesley Carter, of Age UK, said: “We should be really worried, and hospitals should be really worried, too. Often these people may be malnourished before they come into hospitals so it’s really important that they are eating regularly. People who are malnourished don’t heal as quickly.”

Eileen Burns, of the British Geriatrics Society, said: “On the surface, it might be perceived as simply a cost-saving exercise but in reality, it is often highly beneficial for older patients with dementia. Relatives and carers can help create a supportive, familiar environment.”

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