spiralling numbers of admissions to hospitals in Leeds of patients with malnutrition have been branded “an absolute disgrace”.
But the figures – which have trebled in five years – could be the tip of the iceberg, a politician has warned.
People with malnutrition needed hospital care on 93 occasions last year, compared with 30 in 2008.
Coun Lisa Mulherin, executive board member for health and wellbeing on Leeds City Council, said: “The numbers being admitted to hospital are shocking and potentially the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that in a wealthy, modern nation we are seeing anybody turning up in hospital in that condition, but the fact we are seeing three times as many now tells us something about the changes to the welfare system, wage stagnation and the way fuel prices have gone up out of all proportion with people’s pay.
“The pressures on ordinary working families in this city are enormous.”
Reasons for the increase include poverty, which can prevent people buying nutritious food, the growing number of older people – many of whom are living in ill-health, as well as greater recognition of the issue by health workers.
A year ago it was revealed that more than 27,000 people in Leeds were suffering from malnutrition, which occurs when the body does not get the nutrients it needs.
Coun Mulherin said they knew a lack of cash meant families in Leeds were being forced to choose between eating or heating their homes.
She said the council was committed to tackling malnutrition, including through its backing of the Leeds Food Consensus, a drive to combat the problem.
A city-wide campaign was launched earlier this year to let older people know the warning signs, frontline health workers have been trained to look out for the condition while they are working with food banks to enable people using them to find out where they can get other help.
The head of a team which works to prevent malnutrition in the city said she was not surprised by the figures – and agreed that financial pressures seemed to be worsening.
Hannah Diskin, of the Leeds Eating and Drinking Team, said: “I think everyone is more conscious of money.
“People have different priorities but we certainly do see people where money is a factor which prevents them from choosing the right types of food.”
The team, run by Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, was set up at the start of this year to help those at risk and raise the profile of malnutrition among health workers, leading to more frequent diagnoses.
Ms Diskin said: “The thing with malnutrition is that there are so many factors which can cause it. It’s a cause and a consequence.”
Social factors, such as people not being able to get to shops to buy nutritious food, was one issue, as well as the cost of food.
Diseases and conditions like cancer and stroke were another reason for the rising numbers affected.
“Often people have several of these factors,” Ms Diskin said.
Anyone at risk of malnutrition is referred to her team, which includes dieticians, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists.
“We are making malnutrition part of everyone’s business among health and social care staff,” she said.
“That is being more aware of it and better screening.”
Dr Ian Cameron, director of public health for Leeds, said the increase in hospital admissions was in line with a national trend.
“We know people with malnutrition often find it harder to keep warm and then face a greater risk of getting infections, suffering depression and end up with longer stays in hospital.
“The challenge for us as a city is to make a difference to the people facing malnutrition and we are determined to make sure that we work with others throughout the city to do this.