Hospital admission rates for malnutrition have more than doubled in just five years in the West, official figures reveal.
The startling figures, which lay bare the impact of austerity and the financial crisis on the region's families, have been condemned as "completely unacceptable in a wealthy country" by a former health minister.
Figures released by the Department for Health show that 246 people were treated for malnutrition across health trusts in the West region in 2008/9. But the number had rocketed to 540 in 2012/13.
A senior West MP and former health minister described the figures as 'truly shocking and completely unacceptable', while it remains unclear whether the sharp rise is down to more elderly people being admitted to hospital after having problems feeding themselves, children or young people suffering from a lack of food, or whether hospital staff are more likely to report malnutrition cases than they have been previously. These are truly shocking figures, completely unacceptable in a wealthy country like ours and they should shake this Government out of its complacency," said Ben Bradshaw.
"Along with the huge surge in people relying on foodbanks in the West Country, they show that the impact of this Government's policy has fallen on the most vulnerable, while a small number of people right at the top appear to have got off scot-free."
Across the whole region, Somerset recorded the sharpest increase – more than seven times more people were admitted for malnutrition to hospitals in the county last year than four years previously. In 2008, there was barely one case a fortnight, last year there was around two cases every three days. The numbers reported by Somerset Primary Care Trust rose from 30 to 215, with the number almost doubling last year alone.
Bath & North East Somerset recorded another big rise – from just ten in 2008 to 29 in 2011, although that had dropped to 27 last year. Other areas saw a consistent but slower increase, with Wiltshire's hospitals seeing cases increase from 43 to 54, and Gloucestershire's double from 25 to 50 in the space of three years, although it did drop last year to 44. At Dorset Primary Care Trust, the number of people being treated went from 37 in 2008/9 to 42 in 2012/13. The recent peak of 51 cases was recorded in 2011/12.