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Hospitals to shoulder burden of reductions in community meals

The National Association of Care Catering (NACC)’s National Community Meals Week 2013 (11th-15th November 2013) gained strong support from a number of high-profile public figures

Including Rosemary Shrager, Esther Rantzen and Rosie Boycott, in the wake of the news that yet another local authority is to close its Meals on Wheels service from 31st March 2014, risking a rise in hospital admissions among the elderly.

The NACC says that Community Meals across the UK are under threat as local authorities see the removal of this service as a good way of saving money without regard for the financial consequences of poor nutrition, loneliness and isolation resulting in more hospital admissions.

National Community Meals Week set out to publicise the benefits of the vital community meals service, demonstrate the important role it plays in protecting and enriching the lives of the elderly and vulnerable in the community, and send out the strong message that closing the service to save money will have dire consequences for the nation’s elderly and its communities.

The NACC understands that the latest withdrawal of service, in a London Borough, will affect five day centres, as well as 200 elderly and vulnerable residents accustomed to having their meals delivered personally to their homes.  All to save just £190k per annum and currently with no provision made for those who will lose this frontline service.

This comes on top of 11, out of a total of 33 London authorities, which have withdrawn the service over the past two years.  A further 20 local authorities across the rest of the UK also hang in the balance – they are currently in consultation to decide whether to stop the services with the same deadline of 31st March 2014.

And this is despite the fact that malnourished patients visiting their GP incur an additional health care cost of £1449 per patient in the year following diagnosis. By contrast, investing in a Community Meal service has shown that every £1 invested leads to a Social Return on Investment of between £3.00 and £5.30.

The slogan for National Community Meals Week, ‘Any time, any place, we care’, encapsulates the reality that this vital service, whether delivered to the home or through Day Centres and Luncheon Clubs, is about much more than nutrition and hydration.  It also serves a greater social role, addressing loneliness, social isolation, and safety and security in the home and community.

A regular hot meal five days a week may provide the only personal contact a lonely vulnerable or elderly person has that day.  That visitor can provide essential help when they come across someone who is weak, sick, cold or distressed with no one else to turn to.  The service is part of the health and social support necessary to enable these vulnerable and elderly people to continue living in their own homes and be socially independent in line with current government policy.  It plays an integral part in preventing emergency admissions to hospitals and care homes (hospital admissions through malnutrition increased by 217% when provision of community meals on wheels decreased over the 5-year period 2003-2008), and provides part of the framework needed to support the elderly on leaving hospital, thus saving billions of the NHS budget, claims the NACC.

Commenting on the increasing incidence of local authorities closing down the service as a means to save money, Neel Radia, National Chair, NACC, said:  “This is a very short-sighted view.  What they fail to realise is that although in the short term money may be saved, in the long term poor nutrition, loneliness and isolation will lead to more hospital admissions.  This will cost the tax payer more money and it won’t resolve the issue as the vicious cycle will continue once the person is discharged back home.”