Nurses urged to renew focus on patient nutrition and hydration

Promoting good nutrition and hydration for patients is the responsibility of all NHS workers, regardless of profession, a nurse leading a national awareness week has said.

Caroline Lecko, a retired nurse who specialised in the area, told Nursing Times about some of the challenges nurses were facing when it came to prioritising nutrition and hydration, but how a renewed focus could improve patient outcomes in hospital.

“One of the key things is about how we work as healthcare professionals together”

Caroline Lecko

Her comments have come during Nutrition and Hydration Week, an annual event which highlights the importance of and showcases improvements in the provision of nutrition and hydration, nationally and globally.

Ms Lecko, one of the founders of the week, explained that her passion for the area came when she was working as a nurse for the National Patient Safety Agency, doing work around nutrition and patient safety.

“Very much part of that role was trying to make the link between inadequate nutritional care and dehydration having the potential to cause harm,” she explained.

Ms Lecko noted that nutritious food was needed in hospitals to support better patient outcomes.

She said: “We know that if people are malnourished, they’re more at risk of falling, developing pressure ulcers [and] being in hospital for longer.

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“It’s about how we reduce harm associated with being undernourished.”

One key issue currently facing nurses is having the time to ensure patients are accessing nutritious food and water.

Ms Lecko argued that this was something nursing staff “didn’t do particularly well” all of the time.

“Not because we didn’t want to do it, but just because of all the other things that happen on a very busy ward,” she said.

She acknowledged that getting patients to eat and drink could be “really difficult and can take quite a lot of time”.

Ms Lecko added: “There will be patients who actually require assistance to do it and we all know, in terms of staffing, that can an issue.

“I just think that sometimes it’s really difficult to fit these things in amongst all the other things that are going on.”

Picture of retired nurse Caroline Lecko. Caroline is white with long brown hair and a fringe. She is wearing a black polo top.

Caroline Lecko

As such, the purpose of Nutrition and Hydration week is to encourage professionals working across all NHS disciplines to “raise awareness of the importance of nutrition and hydration”.

Ms Lecko said: “One of the key things is about how we work as healthcare professionals together.

“So, making this not just the responsibility of the nursing team, but also that of the caterers, the dieticians, speech and language therapists [and] other people who are involved in that aspect of care.”

So far this week, nurses and other healthcare professionals have taken to social media using the #NHWeek hashtag, to share how they are promoting nutrition and hydration at their organisations.

“Some of the things that people do during this week are amazing,” explained Ms Lecko.

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“You get dieticians really leading on the week, and they’re bringing in nurses and the caterers, or you’ll get some nurses really leading on the week.”

Separately, the founders of Nutrition and Hydration week have also written to MPs demanding that they give focus to nutrition and hydration in their forthcoming party election manifestos, due to be published later this year.

In a letter, seen by Nursing Times, campaigners noted that food and drink was “vital to our health and wellbeing” and should be “an integral part of any nation’s legislation”.

It said: “As we are approaching another general election you will be finalising your manifestos if you have not already done so.

“I would ask and urge you to make food and drink a priority within your manifestos.”

“Now is the time to turn words and deeds into change and commit to put the nation’s health at the centre of manifestos”

Andy Jones

The letter has also called for protected funding for nutritious food in the NHS, which is “ringfenced and inflation-proof” so that food is not seen as a target when the NHS is making cost improvements.

“If we are to make food an integral part of the patient’s recovery programme, then it must be classed as important as medicine,” it said.

Andy Jones, a caterer who also co-founded Nutrition and Hydration Week, told Nursing Times that it was “time for real action” amid rising cases of both obesity and malnutrition in the UK.

Further policies he said he would like to see from the political parties include proposals for an obesity strategy, a malnutrition strategy and better training for all healthcare workers around the need for good nutrition.

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The letter has also called for school meal provision for all children, as well as making cooking mandatory in all schools to give “future generations the knowledge to be able to cook and eat healthy”.

It follows similar calls made earlier this year from school and public health nurses, who have urged ministers to back universal free school meals, to tackle food poverty in the UK.

Mr Jones argued that by mandating cooking in schools for pupils of all ages, the impact “would pay for itself in reduced malnutrition and obesity costs on the NHS”.

He added: “Now is the time to turn words and deeds into change and commit to put the nation’s health at the centre of manifestos.”

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