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NHS still lagging on nutrition care

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A ‘groundbreaking’ government plan intended to tackle malnutrition and ensure the nutritional needs of older hospital patients were met has had little impact on care, a joint survey by Nursing Times and Health Service Journal suggests.

Of more than 400 healthcare professionals and NHS managers responding to the survey, nearly one-quarter said the Department of Health’s nutrition action plan, launched in October 2007, had improved care ‘not at all’ or ‘not much’.

Additionally, only one-third said it had improved care ‘a little’. Just 17% felt it had improved care ‘a lot’.

When asked for their opinions on levels of nutritional care and management in the NHS, replies included ‘abominable’ and ‘potentially lethal’. One respondent said nutrition was ‘taking a back seat’ compared with other priorities.

A key recommendation in the national nutrition plan, which the DH hailed as ‘groundbreaking’, was for trusts to screen patients for malnutrition on admission to hospital and outpatients attending their first appointment. But only 38% of trusts are currently doing this, according to the survey.

The plan also called for hospitals to set up nutrition screening groups or support teams. Just over half of respondents said this had happened at their trust but only 37% said nutritional care was championed at board level.

A DH spokesperson said the nutritional action plan delivery board would ‘shortly’ submit a final report assessing the success of the plan to ministers.

However, Nursing Times has learnt that one trust is carrying out its own audit in an attempt to ‘reinvigorate’ nutritional care.

Jacqui Arnold-Jellis, a specialist nutrition nurse at Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said she hoped the audit would help explain why patients were not always being weighed properly on admission or assessed for their potential to become malnourished in hospital, despite this being trust policy.

‘I’m hoping that, through the audit, we’ll reinvigorate that interest in nutrition that has sometimes been taken over by things such as MRSA and flu,’ she told Nursing Times. ‘It’s about getting the right equipment and staff having the correct knowledge.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • This interesting article made me wonder why NHS England does not have Nutrition Champions like Scotland.
    A Champion was appointed for each board to implement an integrated programme of care, using the QIS standards for Food Fluid and Nutrition and the Food in Hospitals specification this included using MUST to assess every patient on admission.

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