Councils cut meals on wheels services
Caring Times, January 2017
The number of councils providing meals on wheels to vulnerable older people has dropped below 50% for the first time.
Research for the National Association of Care Catering (NACC) shows that just 48% of authorities provide a service compared with 66% only two years ago.
The NACC says under-investment is putting elderly people at risk and will place unnecessary pressure on the NHS because meals services help prevent hospital admissions and extend the time residents can live at home.
NICE (the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence) has previously identified better nutritional care as the third largest source of cost savings to the NHS.
The study, carried out by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) on behalf of NACC showed:
• The North West of England is doing the least with only 17% of authorities providing a meals on wheels service.
• 91% of providers expect there to be further reductions in service over the next 12 months.
• Only half of those providing a meals on wheels service do so 365 days a year.
• £4.30 is the average cost of a two-course lunch which could prevent unnecessary ‘bed blocking’ hospital stays (the cost of keeping someone in hospital is an estimated £400 per day – Department of Health, 2015)
• The best region is Northern Ireland where there is still 100% provision of meals on wheels.
The average meals on wheels service supplies around 60,000 meals per year but it is not statutory so councils can remove the service to save money even though malnutrition accounts for nearly £20bn of health and social care spending in England.
NACC chairman Neel Radia fears continued cuts endanger vulnerable residents and place a huge strain on the NHS.
“This is a very worrying trend,” said Mr Radia.
“We understand that local authorities have a problem with social care funding and we are not placing the blame solely with them. Council budgets are under immense pressure but withdrawing a service that can help keep someone out of hospital is a false economy in the long run because unnecessary hospital stays and bed blocking are a huge problem for the NHS.
“Some authorities do not take the nutritional side to meals on wheels seriously enough and we have even seen instances in the past where councils have stopped providing the service and directed people to fast food outlets on their website which is appalling.
“Meals on wheels is so much more than just a meal – it’s a vital preventative service, and prevention is better than cure. It helps reduce unnecessary malnutrition and malnutrition-related illnesses and is a lifeline to those who are alone and isolated with no support.
“Meals on wheels services can include wellbeing and safety checks. It’s about looking out for people in our communities who have contributed throughout their lives, and doing it in a human and caring way.”