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Large numbers of older hospitalised patients have severe vitamin C deficiency, latest South Australian research shows.

The Flinders University study’s results coincide with recent media reports of increased scurvy outbreaks in the state.

Flinders University researchers and the Department of General Medicine at Flinders Medical Centre found that more than 50% of older hospital patients are malnourished.

A study of general patients admitted between September and November 2017 revealed more than three quarters had lower than normal vitamin C levels: with 40% having a severe vitamin C deficiency.

According to the study, most physicians were unaware a large proportion of hospitalised patients were vitamin C deficient.

Flinders University senior lecturer and consultant physician Dr Yogesh Sharma said vitamin C deficiency presented a serious obstacle to the swift recovery and discharge of older hospitalised patients.

“Socially isolated older people are the high risk group most prone to suffer from vitamin C deficiency – the infirm, those living alone, people struggling with alcoholism and mental health issues – but our research found that this deficiency was found across all types of patients in hospitals aged 60 and over. It is a more significant issue than we first thought.”

Poor nutritional health on admission to hospital leads to longer hospital stays and is costly, according to national and international research.

Proper screening of older patients’ nutrition on hospital admission coupled with an effective dietary plan would result in significant cost savings – an estimated $900 per patient, Dr Sharma said.

“If this was applied across all older patients admitted to Flinders Medical Centre that would equate to a saving of $1.8 million a year. If applied to all hospitals in South Australia, a saving of $9 million a year.”

The study was published in Internal Medicine Journal.