National Community Meals Week 2013 marks another service withdrawn from elderly risking hunger, isolation and despair

Yet another London local authority is to close its Meals on Wheels service from 31 March 2014.  This comes on top of 11, out of a total of 33 London authorities, which have withdrawn the service over the past two years.

The Community Meals services in a further 20 local authorities across the rest of the UK hang in the balance – they are currently in consultation to decide whether to stop the services with their deadline currently also standing at 31 March, 2014. And this is despite the fact that malnourished patients visiting their doctor incur an additional health care cost, to the GP, of £1449 per patient in the year following diagnosis¹.

By contrast, investing in a Community Meal service has shown that every £1 invested leads to a Social Return on Investment of £3.00 and £5.30².

The West Sussex-based National Association of Care Catering (NACC) understands that in this latest instance, in a London borough, the service will be withdrawn from 5 day centres, as well as 200 elderly and vulnerable residents accustomed to having their meals delivered personally to their homes.  All to save just £190k per annum and currently with no provision made for those who will lose this frontline service.

National Community Meals Week 2013 runs from November 11-15 with a launch to be held at Central Hall Westminster at 11.45am on Tuesday 12 November 2013.  The week long campaign aims to combat a deteriorating situation:

  • To raise the profile of the community meals service in the UK
  • To draw attention to the importance of this vital service whether delivered to the home or through day centres and luncheon clubs
  • To highlight the social, economic, psychological and preventative benefits of the community meals service
  • To promote and show local residents and general public the immense value of the service and urge them to support local community meal services
  • To address loneliness, social isolation and safety in the community.

Neel Radia, Chair of NACC; Caroline Lecko, NACC Ambassador and Rosie Boycote, Chair of London Food Group will all make presentations.

Caroline Lecko (Patient Safety | Nursing Directorate NHS England) says: “The value of community meals services should never be underestimated.  They play a vital role in providing people with nutrition and hydration: essential for health and wellbeing.  They can be essential for ‘safety’ wellbeing checks and social contact.  We should all be striving to assist people in remaining well, healthy and happy in their own homes – community meal services are essential in helping us to achieve this.”

Esther Rantzen, Founder of the Silver Line, says: “I am delighted to support this event to promote the importance of maintaining the provision of a meal delivery service.  Through the Silver Line Helpline we will also do our best to support vulnerable older people and link them to these services.”

The NACC appreciates the support of public figures such as Esther Rantzen to publicise the benefits of community meals which are under threat as local authorities see the removal of this service as a good way of saving money without regard for the financial consequences of poor nutrition, loneliness and isolation resulting in more hospital admissions.

A regular hot meal five days a week may provide the only personal contact a lonely elderly person has that day.  That visitor can provide essential help when they come across someone who is weak, sick, cold or distressed with no-one else to turn to.  The service is part of the health and social support necessary to enable these elderly people to continue living in their own homes and be socially independent in line with current government policy.  It plays an integral part in preventing emergency admissions to hospitals and care homes and provides part of the framework needed to support the elderly on leaving hospital thus saving billions of the NHS budget.

Research by the NACC has also found that Community Meals drivers often have more regular contact with people than home care workers and often fulfil a number of roles. These include providing social contact, prompting about medication, bringing in doorstep items, reminding people about the need to drink more fluids, providing a visual check on health and appetite.3

Ongoing reductions in this essential service to the elderly are part of a bigger story across the country. These figures make for shocking reading:

  • 19 million community meals on wheels are served in the UK each year
  • This compares with 40 million only 10 years ago.
  • Hospital admissions through malnutrition increased by 217% when provision of community meals on wheels decreased over the 5-year period 2003-2008.
  • Malnutrition in the elderly costs the UK £7.3 billion every year.
  • 800,000 chronically lonely or socially isolated people in the UK (Campaign to End Loneliness)
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