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Why is it so difficult to give a patient a drink?

  • Comments (6)

How difficult can it be to take a glass of water, put it to a patient’s lips and get them to drink?

Most readers of Nursing Times know just how difficult it can be. It may be because the thickened fluids are unpalatable, or the water is too hot or too cold; perhaps someone forgot to put sugar in the tea or added too much but the patient can’t tell you.

Encouraging patients to drink can be a battle of wills, with the nurse desperate to record some intake on a fluid chart and avoid the need for an IV with the patient just not feeling up to it. All the while, family members are anxiously flipping through the charts and wondering why their loved one’s fluid intake is so poor.

When things get difficult it is up to nurses to rise to the challenge and think about how they can do things differently. For example, the author of an article in this week’s issue looked at types of thickener used in the care homes where she worked. She highlighted the importance of getting the right product and using it correctly to improve not only the texture and appearance of fluids but also patient safety.

Another nurse, Naomi Campbell who is hydration lead at Peninsula Community Health, has developed the “micro-straw”, a device that allows patients to independently sip fluids with minimal effort, in order to reduce reliance on nursing staff. She has received £15,000 from NHS Innovations Southwest to develop her idea.

We can’t all invent a new device but every nurse can do something to improve fluid and nutrition intake.


This is International Nutrition and Hydration Week and at Nursing Times we have organised a number of key activities throughout the week to help you to improve your practice, including free access to clinical articles, an ask-the-expert webchat, and on Wednesday you can complete our Nutrition Screening learning unit free of charge. To find out more, visit


Full list of events on NT:

Monday 17 March:
We reveal this week’s free articles on the Nutrition and Hydration clinical zone.

Tuesday 18 March:
Throughout the day we will be tweeting facts and useful links, follow @NursingTimes to take part.

1pm: Ask the Expert Webchat – we’re joined by experts from the National Nurses Nutrition Group who will be answering your questions live on our webchat page. If you can’t join us at this time, you can email your questions to and we will ask them for you. A transcript will be available following the chat.

Wednesday 19 March:
Our Nutrition Screening learning unit will be FREE for 24 hours.

Thursday 20 March:
Pledge Day – tell us what you could do differently to improve nutrition and hydration in your area. Our favourite will win a nursing textbook from Sage Publishing.

Join in through twitter or on the Nutrition and Hydration page.

Friday 21 March:

Free CPD – These two learning units will be FREE to complete throughout the day:

  • Dysphagia  unit
  • Obesity – an introduction to management in adults
  • Comments (6)

Readers' comments (6)

  • Fran Entwistle

    Thanks for this Eileen. Unfortunately, no matter how many new innovations are developed, the most effective way of improving hydration and nutrition is by hiring more staff.

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  • Anonymous

    perhaps some of those qualified nurses sitting in offices all day would like to help!

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  • While I agree more staff would be lovely realistically it is unlikely to happen so I think we need to consider equipment or technology to support people to drink independently and release nurses time. The 'hydrant' is a tool to look at and can be useful for some people and I am sure there are others. It is an important issue which we need to look at in as many ways to tackle it as possible including combining human and technical/ material resources

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  • Anonymous

    I agree with the above comment that we have a need to resort to more and more mechanical aids but without losing sight of the human side of caring and especially for the elderly who are less used to the technological age and more used to placing greater importance on personal contact.

    unfortunately all services are becoming more and more mechanised and with the 'do it yourself on the computer' attitude not accessible to all and, despite many of the advantages, it is in many ways also detrimental to society and individual personal relations and especially the elderly where lack of familiarity with the technology or further resultant isolation are potential but often very real problems.

    remember the 'good old days' not so very long ago when families and individuals felt more supported by all of the services provided when needed by their trusted bank manager, accountant, solicitor, dentist, family doctor, post office clerk, postman, newpaper boy, milkman, dustmen and whoever else and of those the professionals who were very familiar with their family history, circumstances and their needs took professional confidentiality and protection of all of their personal information very seriously.

    it seems we are moving more and more to a reduction in personnel and the human touch and even more increasingly towards automation which can be so hard for elderly people.

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  • eileen shepherd

    Here are two papers evaluating the hydrant which you may find useful
    Does hands-free drinking improve patient hydration? Improving the hydration of hospital patients

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  • eileen shepherd

    Sorry here are the links

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