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The Malnutrition Task Force has revealed that more than 46,000 older people have been deprived of their ‘Meals on Wheels’ service in the past three years.
With the Government’s comprehensive Spending Review set to introduce more stringent cuts, Meals on Wheels is likely to be one of the first services to be cut by councils.
The National Association of Care Catering (NACC) has urged the Government to consider making Meals on Wheels a statutory protected service for those considered most at risk in the community, to help ensure greater provision across England, Scotland and Wales.
Neel Radia, chair of the NACC commented: “Removing this vital lifeline for older people not only puts more pressure on our hospitals and NHS staff but is also dangerous for those who rely on the service.
“Maintaining good nutrition and the human contact that comes with this is key to ensuring that our older people are able to live independently in good health for as long as possible.
“Cutting this service puts vulnerable, older members of the community at risk and will also end up costing the country far more money. The service needs protecting in law and the NACC calls upon the Government to act immediately to do so.”
The Meals on Wheels service provides a nutritious hot meal and is often the only social contact a vulnerable older person has during the day. Meals on wheels staff are also able to keep a watchful eye and raise any concerns about a person’s health or their ability to cope at home, before a crisis is reached.
People who would otherwise need to live in care homes can continue to lead independent lives in their own homes while using the service.
Age UK has revealed that around one million older people are affected by social isolation in the UK, while 300,000 people aged 65 and over require help with eating or have difficulty eating unaided.
As of January 2015 over a third of the 212 top tier councils in the UK had stopped providing Meals on Wheels services to local residents, including half of all London boroughs.
The findings, released to mark Meals on Wheels Week, show that in just three years spending on Meals on Wheels for older people aged 65 and over has fallen by 47 per cent, from £42.1m in 2010/11 to £22.3m in 2013/14.
In less than ten years, the number of people receiving the service has decreased by over 80 per cent, with 125,000 older people missing out on Meals on Wheels.
The Malnutrition Task Force reveals that older people are losing their Meals on Wheels provision due to local authority budget cuts and steep price increases, which can make the service unaffordable for pensioners living on a low-fixed income.
The decline of the Meals on Wheels service has occurred at the same time as a significant increase in the number of hospital admissions for malnutrition.
According to Age UK, older people are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, which affects around 1.3 million aged 65 and over. Yet, more than nine in ten are living in their own homes.
Diane Jeffrey, chairwoman of The Malnutrition Task Force and of Age UK said: “Ensuring older people are well nourished is essential if they are to stay fit and well, and Meals on Wheels have traditionally played an important role in this.
“It is dismaying to see this former mainstay of community care for older people being allowed to shrivel away because of Government cuts. At this rate of decline there won’t be any Meals on Wheels provision left at all in a few years’ time.
“An important preventive service for older people is well on the way to becoming extinct. This seems a terrible false economy, since the Meals on Wheels service helps to prevent malnutrition, which makes older people more vulnerable to illness and disease and piles cost onto the NHS, as well as spelling misery for the individuals concerned. Meals on Wheels also provide essential social contact for those pensioners who are otherwise entirely alone, an important indirect benefit.”
The Malnutrition Task Force was introduced in 2012 to raise awareness of malnutrition and dehydration among older people. The Task Force aims to work with partners in hospitals, care homes, local authorities and private and voluntary organisations.
The NACC requires 100,000 signatures for the topic to be considered for debate in Parliament. To sign the petition visit: http://www.thenacc.co.uk/events/Governmentpetition.