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Should volunteers feed patients?

  • Comments (6)

Key points

  • Over three million people in the UK are affected by malnutrition and the healthcare costs associated with that exceed £13bn annually
  • In the past 10 years, the proportion of patients being discharged from English hospitals while malnourished has risen by 85%
  • Malnutrition has clinical implications, such as delayed healing, development of pressure ulcers and prolonged hospital lengths of stay
  • Nurse awareness of nutritional screening, as well as using protected mealtimes, can help to maintain the nutritional care of patients
  • Mealtime volunteers can support patients by carrying out simple tasks such as completing menus, opening packaging and encouraging them to eat

Let’s discuss

Using volunteers for feeding

  • Should volunteers feed patients?
  • Are there safety issues and if so, how can these be addressed?
  • What other nursing tasks could volunteers undertake on wards?

Follow the debate on Twitter #NTjournalclub

  • Comments (6)

Readers' comments (6)

  • Marc Evans

    I think that the last statement would be more correct for the role of volunteers. It would be more appropriate for them to carry out simple tasks like doing menus, opening packaging and encouraging patients to eat and drink. I don't think it would be honestly appropriate for them to help feed there are health and safety issues primarily plus the added extra of having to fill in paperwork to depict what patients have eaten. This role is more suited to the Nurse if they have time but primarily the healthcare assistant.

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  • Anonymous

    Give the nurses the time and the staffing to do it instead.
    I have no problems with relatives who want to come in and help, but how would they record and assess nuttrtion and how can we guarantee a large influx of relatives won't cause infection control issues.
    In the end its only a band aid for what is the real root cause and that's the steady decline of trained nurses available to feed patients, increased patient dependency, and the expansion of nurses roles to take on what was formely done by other professions, without the increase in staffing required to do this.

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  • When my mother had a stroke and was in a large north London Hospital I spent 6 weeks living on that ward. during the hours that I had to be at work I paid for a carer to sit by her bed to help feed her, take her to the toilet and talk to her. We did everything - the nurses were too busy or just not caring enough. Patient care was not top of the agenda, paper work was. What really concerned me was what about those poor people in the ward - and there were many - who didn;t have a daughter like me?

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  • Anonymous

    I can't get my head around why we are so scared of volunteers and relatives having some skills at feeding patients, or helping in other tasks. They may obviously need some training, but most of the general public are neither thick nor stupid. Volunteers are vetted before being let loose on patients, and relatives are expected to take over following discharge. If it means that patients get their food and fluids promptly and safely, then I have no problem with it. Many of our volunteers are retired nurses, whose skills are not suddenly stripped from them. Part of any training should include infection control, H&S and confidentiality, etc.

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  • Anonymous

    I just cant get my head around this. How much more is going to be expected for the public to pick up. Hospitals should have in place the staff and resources to cope with what is basic care. We now have health lotterys and other charities pushing even essential equipment into hospital - when will we return to hospitals, Dr's and Nurses being able to do what they have been trained to do and therefore should be funded to do.

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  • Why should we object to volunteers? We are always talking about involving patients and their families and when some suggestion that they help is made, we react with horror.
    Yes, it is, and should be the responsibility of nurses to know the nutritional status of their patients, but whenever we are stretched to breaking point, should we not welcome the help instead of being so defensive.

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