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Nurses must get passionate about nutrition

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 16, PAGE NO: 49

Hazel Rollins, MSc, RGN, RM, is nutrition nurse specialist, Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Trust

The provision of nutritional care poses a great challenge to nurses. The food and nutrition benchmark recently launched in England as part of The Essence of Care (Department of Health, 2001) includes a patient-focused outcome. It says: 'Patients/clients are enabled to consume food (orally) which meets their individual need.' There are many problems that nurses may face in meeting this challenge, but we must do so. There is no doubt that good nutritional care improves clinical outcome. Equally importantly, it is what patients expect of us.

The provision of nutritional care poses a great challenge to nurses. The food and nutrition benchmark recently launched in England as part of The Essence of Care (Department of Health, 2001) includes a patient-focused outcome. It says: 'Patients/clients are enabled to consume food (orally) which meets their individual need.' There are many problems that nurses may face in meeting this challenge, but we must do so. There is no doubt that good nutritional care improves clinical outcome. Equally importantly, it is what patients expect of us.

Nurses may feel powerless to improve nutritional care. The food provided may be inadequate or inappropriate for the patient group. Staff may not have the tools to do the job (for example, specialist crockery and cutlery to improve independence in feeding). There may be limited access to expert help. Patients' needs may be lost in a gap between health and social care. Nurses may feel under great pressure from other demands on their time.

But we are not powerless and there is no need for us to work in isolation. Health policy has put nutritional care on the agenda of every chief executive and director of nursing in England. Talk to your director of nursing about local plans. Share your work so that we can learn from each other. The NHS Plan will improve the hospital menu where improvements are needed, and the provision of ward housekeepers will help us to fulfil the many demands placed on us. We can be creative and we can use others to help us (for example, volunteers, relatives or lunch clubs). But ultimately any improvement in the menu and infrastructure can only help patients if we make sure that nourishing food is eaten by them. After all, food that isn't eaten has no nutritional value.

There are four important factors in all of this. The first is the need for nurses to become passionate about nutritional care wherever they look after patients. Look for where problems might exist in the provision of nutritional care. Ask your patients. Between you, you will be able to suggest solutions. Take these to your director of nursing. The second is the need for nurses to be knowledgeable about nutrition, and the third is the need for teamwork. Only when we work well together will the patient feel the full benefit of nutritional care. Make friends with your catering manager, dietitian and therapists. Teach together, solve problems and learn from each other. And finally, good nutritional care demands attention to detail (such as weighing patients), but with good nursing it was ever thus.

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