New Clause 66 - Support provided by the NHS to populations at risk of malnutrition

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 2nd November 2021.

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“(1) Each integrated care board must—

(a) assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for support for patients and/or populations at risk of malnutrition, including social and clinical/disease related malnutrition, using their services;

(b) prepare and publish a strategy for the provision of such support in its area;

(c) monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy; and

(d) designate a malnutrition lead.

(2) An integrated care board that publishes a strategy under this section must, in carrying out its functions, give effect to the strategy.

(3) Before publishing a strategy under this section, an integrated care board must consult—

(a) any local authority for an area within the relevant Integrated care board’s area; and

(b) such other persons as the relevant local authority considers appropriate.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), ‘local authority’ means—

(a) a county council or district council in England; or

(b) a London borough council.

(5) An integrated care board that publishes a strategy under this section—

(a) must keep the strategy under review;

(b) may alter or replace the strategy; and

(c) must publish any altered or replacement strategy.

(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the preparation and publication of strategies under this section.

(7) The power to make regulations under subsection (6) may, in particular, be exercised to make provision about—

(a) the procedure to be followed by an integrated care board in preparing a strategy;

(b) matters to which an integrated care board must have regard in preparing a strategy;

(c) how an integrated care board must publish a strategy;

(d) the date by which an integrated care board must first publish a strategy; and

(e) the frequency with which an integrated care board must review its strategy or any effect of the strategy on the provision of other provision in its area.

(8) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) all integrated care boards; and

(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

This new clause would require integrated care boards to publish a strategy for the provision of support for patients and/or populations at particular risk of malnutrition using their services, and designate a malnutrition lead.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause would put responsibility on integrated care boards to take the lead on tackling malnutrition in their community. We spoke about malnutrition in the context of hospital food standards, and we were not able to move the Minister to extend those hospital food standards to other care settings. I thought that was a shame, and I hope the Government will continue to look at the issue. I want to broaden the conversation on malnutrition to try, via another way, to improve the standing of our communities.

Malnutrition is a serious condition that occurs when a person does not get the energy or vitamins that their body requires to function properly. It affects at least 3 million people every year, and it costs the health and social care system £23.5 billion each year. The condition is particularly common amongst certain groups. Those groups are: older people; hospital patients; people in mental health units and care homes; people living in sheltered housing; and those living with chronic diseases, such as cancer. Malnutrition can seriously threaten patients’ health. Hospitalised malnourished patients are three times more at risk of infection than the well-nourished, while hospital patients at high risk of malnutrition are 12 times more likely to die early than those at no risk. It is a very significant issue. Unfortunately, the figures are not moving in the right direction. The number of adults being admitted to hospital with malnutrition has more than doubled in the last decade—that is the bill for austerity. The evidence is clear that malnutrition impacts a wide range of people in different health settings; again, those are hospitals, mental health units, care homes and sheltered housing. It has a knock-on effect on other conditions.

Earlier this year, the media reported the death of a young disabled woman after a routine operation. Her death was partially caused by malnutrition, and the coroner said there had been a gross failure of care in managing her nutrition. A July 2021 report on malnutrition called it a widespread yet historically overlooked and undertreated issue in the NHS and social care, and attributed that to two factors that block progress—a lack of understanding, and a lack of systematic leadership. The new clause seeks to address that at a local level, which is why we think it is a good one.

The tragic case that I have mentioned shows how important it is to have a clear strategy to tackle malnutrition, to have designated leads and to have targets and co-ordinated policy. The Government say that integrated care boards are about ensuring proper integration between health staff and community services, and this is a really good example of a way in which that could be done. I am keen to hear the Minister’s assessment of the new clause, which should be included in the Bill. We have a significant issue that we are not addressing and that is getting worse, so what are we going to do differently?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

We recognise and know that malnutrition can be a significant problem that can be both a cause and a consequence of ill health. We remain committed to improving the NHS and public health systems, which is helping to improve health and secure early diagnosis of major diseases, tackling some of the root causes of malnutrition. That is backed by the development of the outcomes frameworks covering public health, the NHS and social care, and the development of specific disease outcome strategies.

Individuals, carers and professionals all have a role to play in tackling malnutrition, and there are tools and guidance in place through a range of organisations to help health and social care professionals identify and treat the problem of malnutrition, and to access appropriate training. I note that e-learning modules are currently in place through the Royal College of General Practitioners and the managing adult malnutrition in the community pathway, which was set up by a multidisciplinary group and is widely endorsed by professional bodies aimed at healthcare professionals.

I hope I speak for the whole Committee when I say that we all agree that the NHS can play a vital role in protecting vulnerable people. As part of that, it should have strategies and processes in place for supporting patients and vulnerable people in the community who are at risk of malnutrition. I hope I can reassure the Committee that placing in the Bill a formal duty on ICBs to develop a separate strategy is not strictly necessary, as there is a range of ongoing activity across health and care.

As we have previously discussed, there are already significant existing duties, and duties proposed in the Bill, to prepare plans, including joint local health and wellbeing strategies made at a local authority level by health and wellbeing boards, the integrated care strategy that is to be developed by the integrated care partnership, and the forward plan that is to be developed by the integrated care board. All those plans should be informed by local joint strategic needs assessments, or JSNAs. All the strategies can, where appropriate, consider malnutrition and populations at risk of malnutrition. We have previously debated the range of guidance available to inform thinking on both JSNAs and strategic plans, and we will of course work with NHS England to consider whether it is necessary to include specific references to malnutrition in the guidance.

Should the Bill pass into statute, we expect clinical commissioning groups and ICBs to consider the needs of patients and vulnerable people in their communities, including people who may be at risk of malnutrition. That includes working across health and social care partners to undertake needs assessments on malnutrition, and developing and implementing a work plan to maintain high standards of nutrition through integrated pathways of care. NHSEI’s enhanced health in care homes implementation framework sets out best practice guidance for primary care networks and others in relation to hydration and nutritional support for care home residents. The framework supports the implementation of minimum standards in relation to enhanced health in care homes in the Network Contract Directed Enhanced Service for 2020-21.

The malnutrition task force has also published a series of guides offering expert advice on the prevention of and early intervention in malnutrition in later life, which will support health and care bodies. Alongside that, we have published an independent review of hospital food, which made recommendations for addressing malnutrition in hospitals, and a review of what works in supporting older people in the community to maintain a healthy diet. This “what works” review included a range of examples of good practice at local authority level that others can learn from, and we have provided in the Bill for powers to impose requirements on hospital food standards.

We are helping to raise awareness of malnutrition among individuals and carers through the website, and through the NICE quality standard on malnutrition, which gives a clear and authoritative statement of a quality service. There are ongoing inspection requirements, including for unannounced inspections of health and care settings by the Care Quality Commission, which will continue to ensure expected standards are met.

The new clause would place a requirement on ICBs to have a malnutrition lead. The Bill intentionally allows for flexibility in the make-up of ICBs above the minimum membership requirements that we have previously debated in Committee. They could, if they wished, include condition-specific officers, but we do not want to bind their hands by specifying that they must. That once again returns to the permissive versus prescriptive thread that has run through many of our debates.

However, I do see a huge opportunity for ICPs to consider how best to improve services for people at risk of malnutrition through better partnership and joint working and planning of services, given the complementary services that the NHS and local authorities offer in this context. The new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is committed to improving the diet of the population and supporting people to maintain a healthy weight.

I hope I have given the Committee some reassurance that we are taking this issue extremely seriously and are committed to enabling the NHS and the wider health and care system to effectively tackle malnutrition.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I was a little surprised to hear the Minister defend the status quo. The state of play in this country is not good enough and is getting worse, so I dare say that more of the same will beget more of the same. The Minister said that the new clause was not necessary because of the range of ongoing activity, but I reiterate that what is happening is not sufficient and is not addressing this really important issue.

The two areas for development that were offered were local prioritisation through integrated care strategies and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. They are obviously relatively new actors in this space, so it is probably right that we give them time to see whether, as the Minister says, they will prioritise this, choose to make it a top-rated issue and do something about it. I am very sceptical of that, and I suspect that we will be back at this sooner rather than later. However, in the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.