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Digital undernutrition service linking NHS with nursing homes improves care

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A new digital undernutrition service for care homes has improved the quality of care for residents through increased monitoring, according to results from a pilot scheme.

NHS Health Call is a partnership between County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and Inhealthcare Limited

“To stop the service would be a backward step. We couldn’t go back to what we did before”

Mandy Gilmore

The firm’s technology allows the secure flow of patient data into NHS systems so it can be accessed before and during consultations.

The service fosters closer collaboration across the NHS and care homes through a secure web-based portal.

It allows for fluctuations in weight and nutritional health to be highlighted early on, meaning food, drink and oral supplements can be adjusted more timely.

Undernourished residents are closely monitored every one to two weeks by care home staff, who input the patient’s weight, appetite, and compliance to oral nutritional supplements onto the portal.

If any of the patient’s data falls outside of their pre-set personal parameters, a dietician is alerted and will contact the care home to provide dietary advice.

Already in use in the foundation trust’s area, the service has also been recently commissioned by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland, after a successful pilot.

“We hope to see this pilot encourage other trusts to take up the service”

Catherine McShane

The pilot, which ran from 3 March to the 30 September 2015, led to more proactive treatment due to regular telephone reviews and the timely response of dietitians.

The length of time patients were under dietetic care was reduced from six to nine months, to four months. The pilot also reported a minimum of £1,600 saving on inappropriate use of supplements.

In addition, care home staff reported feeling more “empowered” to take responsibility of the less vulnerable patients.

Mandy Gilmore, head of dietetics at the trust, said: “The residents and their families feel more supported too because the frequency of monitoring has been increased along with more timely reviews.

“To stop the service would be a backward step,” she said. “We couldn’t go back to what we did before.”

It has so far been rolled out in 14 care homes in Northern Ireland – 11 in Newry and Mourne, and three in Armagh and Dungannon.

A trust spokeswoman added: “The Southern Health and Social Care Trust are looking for opportunities to identify funding to further implement the service. This is also being explored on a regional basis.”

Catherine McShane, lead dietitian at County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust, suggested the success of the pilot was partly because staff were “now more aware of the importance of nutrition”.

“The responsibility is shared between the care home staff, the dietitian and dietetic assistants,” she said.

“We hope to see this pilot encourage other trusts to take up the service and improve the care of their elderly at risk of undernutrition,” she added.

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