Elderly and infirm patients may be put at risk in care homes that force them to be fitted with feeding tube in order to cut costs and save time, according to a new report.
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Many homes are refusing to take patients who do not have feeding tubes inserted into their stomachs, the study claims.
The report by the Royal College of Physicians says although the homes claim to be acting in the interests of the patients, the real motive may be to reduce costs and staffing levels.
The report comes as the college issued guidance calling on doctors and nurses to view artificial feeding as a “last resort”.
An audit of 719 PEG procedures published in 2004 found 19% were “futile” and did nothing to prolong life.
This suggests large numbers of patients are being tube fed inappropriately.
A 2008 survey showed the previous year 39,000 people in the UK were artificially fed outside hospital, either at home or in residential care.
Dr Rodney Burnham, who co-chaired the working party that produced the guidelines, said increasing numbers of care homes were refusing to take patients not fitted with feeding tubes.
“We come down very strongly on any blanket refusal on those grounds,” he said. “They may cite patient safety but there could be a hidden agenda on grounds of staffing or costs.”
He was unable to say what proportion of homes imposed the PEG rule, but added: “It is fairly widespread, because every hospital and every nutrition team you talk to will have had that experience.”