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Tackling malnutrition in the community

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Malnutrition is a problem in the community too Malnutrition is a problem in the community too

Last month, health secretary Andrew Lansley pledged to improve the nutritional value of hospital food. This, he feels, can be achieved through improving buying standards. Anything that has the potential to improve the nutritional care of hospital patients is to be welcomed.

However, Mr Lansley, like so many others, appears to be ignoring malnutrition in the community and the fact that, when patients are admitted to hospital, already unwell, it is difficult to tackle issues around poor nutrition.

Successive British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN) eports have shown that malnutrition in community settings is an ongoing problem, with which carers and community health professionals are struggling; and it is not being addressed or resolved.

Many organisations are now calling for nutrition screening in the community, an excellent move as long as nurses are provided with the time, equipment and resources to implement it.

Patient compliance is one issue to address. When patients are in hospital, they may be more willing to be screened because it is just another 'procedure'. A person in their own home may be less willing to undergo screening and has every right to refuse treatment and care.

To tackle the ever-growing problem of poor nutrition in the wider community, we must engage with the public to raise awareness.

In a 2011 report, the Patients Association suggested that while older people might connect unexplained weight loss with malnutrition, they did not necessarily associatemalnutrition with an increased recovery time after illness or an increased likelihood of becoming ill in the first place. Only half of carers surveyed considered their patient's weight and diet when gauging their overall health.

Mr Lansley, it is wonderful that you want to improve hospital food and as a nutrition nurse I welcome this. But what are you going to do about malnutrition in the community? The real challenge is out there, not just inside hospitals.

Liz Evans, chair, National Nurses Nutrition Group and BAPEN council member

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