Every healthcare professional who comes into contact with a patient has an opportunity to look for signs or risk factors for malnutrition.As nurses we are key people within that patient’s journey through health care. It is therefore essential that we equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills to understand when patients may be at risk and be able to put into place an action plan to address this.
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There are many reasons why an individual may become malnourished: underlying disease; low mood; limited access to food and drink; poor dentition (to name a few). So you can see that whilst the presence of disease process may be a contributing factor, there are also other aspects to consider.
The NMC Code of Conduct further defines our role, stating that registered nurses should ensure those in our care receive adequate nutrition and hydration, including provision of support for those unable to achieve this independently.
Malnutrition affects around 3 million people across the UK with a cost to health and social care services of around £23.5 billion. Early screening and identification of those at risk and providing advice and support is key to improving patient outcomes. Effective wound healing, improved immune function, mental function and wellbeing can all be impacted by improved nutrition and hydration.
Putting in place simple but effective measures early may be sufficient for many patients. For example giving advice on easier, nourishing meals to prepare, use of snacks and nourishing drinks. As part of nursing care it is important to review the impact of any intervention and understand when to escalate, perhaps by referral to dietetic colleagues.
The National Nurses Nutrition Group (NNNG) was established in 1986 and soon after became a registered charity. Initially the focus of the group was enteral and parenteral nutrition support. Over recent years our focus has widened to reflect the increasing profile of nutrition and it works to promote education in nutrition and related subjects for the benefit of both nurses and patients.
Malnutrition Awareness Week (October 11-17) is an opportunity to focus on what we can do better to improve patient nutrition and hydration. The past 18 months has lead to social isolation, difficulty accessing food and people not being able or being too anxious to seek medical advice for physical symptoms that may in turn be leading to weight loss. We, as nurses have a huge role to play in this. It may seem an impossible task in an ever increasing workload, but small interventions can make a big difference.
If you would like to know more about the group and get involved please visit www.nnng.org.uk and follow us on Twitter (@NNNGUK)
Claire Campbell, Nutrition Nurse Lead , Chair of NNNG,Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust