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Nurses ill-equipped to deal with widespread malnutrition

8 September 2008

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Almost nine in ten primary care nurses (86%) have not undertaken basic training in nutrition support, a survey has found.

Furthermore, only a quarter (24%) feel comfortable seeing patients with nutritional needs.

The findings were from a survey conducted by Nursing in Practice in association with Fresenius Kabi, which also revealed that  health visitors admitted to having the lowest training rates – only 9% said they had undertaken nutrition training.

This is despite the government’s plans to include nutrition as part of the nurse training programme with the aim of tackling malnutrition among elderly patients.

In October last year, health minister Ivan Lewis warned that nurses who fail to help people eat and neglect older people should face disciplinary action: “We somehow have to change the culture that says nutrition is not important. It is as important as access to the right medication,” he said.

Malnutrition in hospital and the community affects more than three million patients and costs the NHS £7.3bn a year. However, it is estimated that 70% of malnutrition in the UK goes unrecognised and untreated.

Survey respondents were asked whether they routinely screen for malnutrition. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they don’t routinely screen for malnutrition, and when asked if someone else was doing it, 56% didn’t know.

Despite the wide range of malnutrition screening tools available, 64% of the respondents reported using only common sense for assessing undernutrition.

According to Sara Stanner, nutrition communications manager at the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF): “Nurses need to be confident in the use of appropriate screening tools to identify and monitor those at risk and have a good understanding of nutritional support and practical measures for helping to treat loss of appetite or poor food intake.

“These results reflect what nurses have been telling us for some time – that they need more education and training in many aspects of nutrition.”

Sarah Schenker, dietitian at the BNF, concludes: “This survey underlines the need for serious action to raise the awareness of nursing staff of the causes and consequences of poor nutrition.

“We do not have to turn our nurses into nutritionists, but there must be a mechanism in place to take action that is simple and effective.”

Nursing in Practice