The number of people ending up in hospital due to undernourishment has nearly tripled in the last year, according to official figures and the elderly are a key demographic in the additional cases.
Some 184,528 hospital bed days last year were as a result of poor diet or a lack of food, compared to 65,048 measured across the same timeframe in 2006-2007. In many of the cases, a fall or infection was the catalyst for treatment, but doctors detected malnutrition as the underlying cause.
In some instances, malnutrition was the primary cause of admission, with the total reaching 17,166 for the 2015-2016 period. This is up from 6,704 a decade earlier and such a significant rise that it is raising alarm bells among experts.
Simon Bottery, director of policy at the charity Independent Age, said: "These new figures on malnutrition are genuinely shocking.
“As a society, there is no excuse for us failing to ensure that older people are able to eat enough food of the right quality to stay healthy.
"Yet we have been cutting back the meals on wheels services and lunch clubs on which so many vulnerable elderly people relied and reducing the numbers who receive home care visits.”
Four out of five people being admitted for malnutrition were brought in as emergencies, denoting a sudden deterioration in health. Mr Bottery said that this was due to care professionals not having the time or skills to identify malnutrition.
The official figures come in the wake of the Autumn Statement when the government failed to grant the NHS or social care services any extra budget. This has been seen as an oversight by many in an area that is in need of additional cash.
On average, a person admitted to hospital with malnutrition will stay in for 22-23 days. It costs the NHS £400 a day from them to be there, showing how expensive it is to allow an avoidable situation to spiral out of control.
As 42 per cent of patients being admitted were over-65, the official figures highlight the importance of looking after the elderly. While this can sometimes be achieved in their own homes, living in a care home ensures that they are properly looked after, fed and monitored all of the time.
The figures were obtained by Jonathan Ashworth, the health spokesman for Labour. He said: “Real poverty is causing vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, to go hungry and undernourished, so much so that they end up in hospital.”