Thousands of elderly people are being forced to have tubes fitted so they can be artificially fed if they want to be admitted to a care home, a major report warns today.
There is no evidence that tube feeding prolongs life, and it deprives patients of the pleasure and social contact involved in normal eating and drinking, says a Royal College of Physicians working group which recommends that artificial nutrition should only be used as a last resort.
The report found that many care homes across the country are making it a condition of residence that people, often in the advanced stages of dementia, have a tube fitted into their abdomen.
"This is an invasive procedure with a risk, so it should not be undertaken lightly," said Dr Rodney Burnham, chair of the working group. "One of the concerns we had was that we felt in many places there were cases where this was done without proper thought.
"This is a widespread problem. Many care homes say they will not take a patient until they have had a gastrostomy. There is no reason for them to do that. They should have nursing support."