A health trust has apologised after claims that elderly patients are being left hungry and malnourished in Northern Ireland hospitals.
Age NI says families of bed-ridden pensioners have complained that non-pureed food was given to patients with swallowing difficulties and food trays are being placed at the end of beds, or on tray tables that were too high and out of reach.
The charity has also claimed there were instances where no help or encouragement was given to help people eat and drink and food trays were being taken away, untouched without any questions, with families left to hand-feed their relatives.
Duane Farrell, director of policy at Age NI, said that there is real evidence and concern about the malnutrition of older people in hospitals. “Nutrition should be treated as an integral part of the care any person receives in hospital,” he said.
“Assistance with food and drink should be provided in a manner that is dignified so that all patients who need help are receiving it.
“Older people who are malnourished stay in hospital for a longer time, require more medication and are more likely to suffer from infections. Therefore this issue has an impact, not only on older people’s health, but on trust resources in terms of staffing and funding.”
Leandre Munroe, from Belfast, said her mother was sometimes unable to even reach her food tray.
“Unless you were there to feed the person you were caring for, there wasn't enough staff to do that,” she said.
Another man, Malcom McDowell, said he saw a woman in her 90s have her tray taken away untouched after she was unable to sit up to feed herself.
The Belfast Trust director of nursing has apologised after the claims came to light.
Director of Nursing Brenda Creaney said nurses recognised that good nutrition was as important as medication.
“Food nutrition is one of the most important parts of the care we as nurses give,” she said.
“We do not always get it right but we do strive to get it right.”
The South Eastern Trust has said that anyone with complaints should come directly to their complaints department.