The NHS and care services are fuelling malnutrition by settling for "inadequate standards" that are putting patients - especially the elderly - in danger, a leading nutritionist has said.
Professor Marinos Elia said the condition continued to be under-detected and under-treated even though it affected more than three million people in Britain and cost an estimated £13 billion per year to deal with.
Adequate nourishment in hospitals and care homes is a major issue following the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal with the Government pledging to raise standards of care - including ensuring that patients receive adequate food and fluids.
The consultant physician at Southampton General Hospital has now set up five statements for nutritional best practice on behalf of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) - the authority that helps develop health standards in England.
A care plan will see details of a patient's nutritional needs transferred with them from service to service in what the expert said was a simple and rational improvement.
"Malnutrition is a common and costly problem that leads to detrimental effects on individuals in hospitals and in the community and it needs to be taken more seriously," Mr Elia explained.
"At present we have too many services settling for inadequate standards - the Care Quality Commission has recently confirmed that nearly a fifth of hospitals and nursing homes are not meeting at least one basic or essential standard in nutrition and hydration - and that is unacceptable."
Malnutrition occurs when a person's diet does not contain enough or the right balance of nutrients, leaving sufferers vulnerable to illness, delayed recovery and it weakens the effects of medical treatments.
"Although malnutrition is a threat to millions of people in the UK, health services have struggled to develop clearly defined, simple and implementable plans that aim to achieve best practice. There is often a lack of continuity of care for individuals between care settings but, by making a documented nutrition care plan which is transferred with a patient when they move a requirement, we may start to see steady change," the doctor explained.
In addition to a transferable care plan, the quality standard now has malnutrition screening for patients using a Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST), which was developed by Mr Elia and his team for everyone who accesses health services.