Inedible hospital food putting patients at risk
Malnourished patients are deteriorating in hospital because of the poor quality of inedible food they are being served up.
One in four is already malnourished when admitted to hospital - but their recovery from illness is often set back further as they lose even more weight during their stay.
The warning was issued yesterday by the patient safety watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) which has launched a new action plan to outlaw unappetising meals and inadequate hydration in hospital wards.
It will carry out unannounced inspections of 13 hospitals to scrutinise meals served to patients and publish its findings.
The move will come as a relief to patients who have to endure plates of over-boiled vegetables and dried-out meat during their recuperation.
Hiqa chief executive Phelim Quinn said malnutrition is a particular risk for vulnerable patients including the elderly, people with cancer or those who have had surgery.
"Malnutrition affects more than one-in-four patients admitted to Irish hospitals," he said.
"Also a patient's nutritional status often deteriorates while in hospital."
Malnutrition compromises their quality of life, affects recovery and causes unnecessary illness and even death, he warned.
"It is common for patients to be malnourished on admission to hospital as many experience unintentional weight loss of over 10pc in their body weight in the six months prior to hospital admission.
"It has been reported that patients already malnourished on admission are more likely to lose weight during their hospital stay and their weight loss is proportionately higher," said Mr Quinn.
Hiqa is now ordering all public acute hospitals to fill out a questionnaire to assess their quality of the food, nutrition and hydration.
"Inspection teams will visit hospital wards during mealtimes to see first-hand if patients get good quality meals, a choice of food and that they are helped with eating when necessary," he said.
Just one-in-10 hospitals is routinely screening patients for malnutrition, which leaves thousands at risk of slipping through the net.
The crackdown was welcomed last night by chef Oliver Dunne who has spent nearly a year trying to persuade the HSE to allow him to advise on how it could improve hospital food.
However, the owner of Bon Appetit restaurant in Malahide in Dublin, said his efforts have been frustrated by bureaucracy and the failure to get permission to access a hospital.
The chef was prompted to act by his wife Sabine's experience in hospital where she was treated for ulcerative colitis. He said: "I was looking at her deteriorating in front of my own eyes and losing weight.
"My offer was to go in and work with the budgets they have to come up with healthy nutritious different options... I don't want to overhaul a whole menu. I firmly believe there is still a place for sausage rolls.
"When I was visiting my wife I saw the constant, over-cooked, flavourless, badly thought-out meals that were served... I saw faces drop when they took off the lid."
The HSE said its Quality and Improvement Division is leading an improvement programme in relation to nutrition and hydration.
"Each individual patient is assessed to ascertain their nutritional needs and requirements, often on a daily basis," said a spokeswoman.