Half the hospital patients in Australia's biggest state are malnourished, with many unable to eat what they are given because they cannot open the packaging, an inquiry heard Wednesday.
The independent inquiry in to New South Wales hospitals was told that a study conducted last year in the northern Sydney district found 51 percent of patients had some form of malnourishment.
Dietician Rhonda Matthews, who led the study, said that while many patients were already in a malnourished state when they were admitted to hospital, they would not recover quickly without proper food.
"We have an immediate need to address issues both on the ward and how we assist patients to eat and also the type and the presentation of the food," she said.
Matthews said malnourished patients were more likely to come down with infections, dehydration, diarrhoea, depression and that their wounds would take longer to heal.
"We've found that the patients who have some degree of malnutrition in our hospitals were staying in hospital twice as long as those who were not malnourished," she told reporters outside the inquiry, national newswire AAP reported.
Fellow dietician Joanne Prendergast said the way food was presented was often problematic.
"If they're getting the food (packaged) presented in that way and they couldn't access it, they didn't eat it," she told reporters.