Less than a third of patients have been asked about their diet and weight during a stay in hospital and less than a quarter have been given a choice of what they would like to eat, according to new research.

The Patients Association surveyed just over 5,000 members of the public, of whom 1,311 had spent time in hospital during the past year.

Asked whether they were questioned about their diet and nutrition during their stay, just 31 per cent said yes, despite guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence which states all inpatients should be screened for malnutrition.

Of those that said yes, 65 per cent discussed their eating habits with a nurse, 11 per cent a healthcare assistant and 46 per cent a doctor or consultant. Just 14 per cent saw a dietician or nutritionist.

Only 22 per cent had been offered a choice of food or drink during their stay, despite it being a requirement of registration by the Care Quality Commission.

Queen’s nurse Alison Shepherd, a nurse tutor at Florence Nightingale School of nursing and a registered nutritionist, described the figures as “shocking”.

“When a patient goes into hospital they should be automatically screened and it would seem that these probably aren’t being completed and we need to find out why and whether there’s an education issue,” she said.

However, National nurses Nutrition Group chair Liz Evans told HSJ’s sister publication Nursing Times there was a possibility patients did not always realise they were being screened for malnutrition when it took place as part of a more general assessment.

She said the focus needed to be on nutrition in the community as one in three patients arrived at hospital already malnourished and welcomed the reports call for more education for GPs.

When asked who they had gone to for advice about nutrition, 17 per cent of respondents said a nurse, compared to 44 per cent who said a GP. This was despite nurse education including a much bigger focus on nutrition.

Ms Evans added: “Patients are only in hospital for a short time which is not long enough to properly tackle malnutrition; it needs to be followed up in the community.

“I’m pleased to see the Patients Association is recognising the role GP consortia and local authorities should be playing in ensuring that people are not malnourished.”

Ms Evans, a nutrition nurse specialist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, said the finding that less than a quarter of patients were offered a choice of food was “surprising” in light of the focus on it by the CQC and would need more investigation.