One in seven care home residents are not being given enough to eat and drink, according to new figures released by the Care Quality Commission.
The study of 599 nursing homes, visited between October 2010 and July 2011, found that 84 did not meet the legal requirements expected of them, according to The Daily Telegraph.
There were widespread examples of vulnerable people failing to receive the necessary care and attention at mealtimes, resulting in malnourishment among many.
Amanda Sherlock, director of operations at the CQC, said that the majority of care homes inspected do comply with the essential standards.
"However our inspectors have also seen providers where meals are simply placed in front of frail, vulnerable people, who are least able to complain, with no attempt to help them eat, until their food is cleared away uneaten," she added.
"It is completely unacceptable where people have been losing weight alarmingly - yet no attempt has been made to find out why, to offer them adequate assistance or to refer them to a specialist for help."
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, has called for more attention to be focused on basic care.
She said: "We are not talking about complex medical treatment, we are just talking about the human rights element of care: help with feeding and drinking, pain relief, assistance to the toilet."
The CQC has the power to take legal action against nursing homes that fail to meet the required standards, but there is concern among groups representing the interests of patients that it is too difficult to identify offenders in such a vast sector.
Commenting on the CQC's report Lee Sheppard, divisional manager care homes at supplier Apetito, said that to learn that some of the country's most frail and vulnerable people are being denied sufficient nourishment is incredible.
"We're not talking about a complex medical issue here. It's a basic, essential element of care. The fact that these individuals are in care should not take the element of choice and a love of food away," he explained.
"As well as being one of life's simple pleasures, food really is the best medicine. Some of the care homes we work with, for example, have reported that our meals are directly improving the health and wellbeing of the residents, with some gaining weight by up to 20%. Statistics like this demonstrate that it is vital that care home food offers residents a balanced, nutritional diet that is bespoke to an individual's needs and tastes."
By Janie Stamford
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