Scheme to see hospitals screen patients for malnutrition

One in four patients suffer from malnutrition, and next year, a hospital screening programme is to begin identifying them.

Poor nutrition poses a major risk of infections, post-operative complications and delayed recovery. Most malnourished patients are also up to three times more likely to die within six months.

Tomorrow, the Irish Society for clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN) will host a conference in Dublin that will hear about the importance of detecting malnourished patients.

Inadequately nourished patients also cost the health service more. They stay at least 30% longer than normally nourished patients and are twice as likely to be re-admitted within 45 days.

IrSPEN wants those at risk of malnutrition or other nutrition problems to be screened and managed at the point of admission.

Disease-related malnutrition affects about 140,000 people in Ireland and costs at least €1.5bn a year.

IrSPEN chairman, Professor John Reynolds, said the organisation had been working with the HSE on how to tackle the problem of patient malnutrition.

Prof Reynolds said it was expected that a pilot nutritional screening programme would be activated in the country’s major hospitals within the next year.

“Our main focus has been on highlighting that poor nutrition is a common problem and that screening on the point of entry to hospital is the way to tackle the problem. We want to work with the HSE in developing nutritional and hydration policies for patients within the hospital setting.”

Asked how can patients be encouraged to eat well in hospital where the food is often criticised for its poor nutritional quality, Prof Reynolds said the quality of hospital food did form part of the ongoing discussions with the HSE.

Clearly, he said, patients would benefit from eating high-quality food in hospital and the minister for health had recently taken a personal interest in the area.

Half of those affected by malnutrition and related problems are 65 years or over and 90% are living in the community.

Malnutrition affects between 30% and 60% of nursing home residents and an estimated 10% of adult patients attending GP/out-patient department clinics.

However, Prof Reynolds said every patient should be screened for malnutrition on entry to hospital.

“Many patients who are obese can be malnourished but it is not very obvious. They may be fat but have lost a lot of their muscle mass; they have lost their ability to deal with infections and are at a higher risk of developing complications.”

IrSPEN wants all healthcare professionals to be more aware, more proactive, and better educated about the potential for nutritional therapy to improve patient outcomes, save money, and save lives.

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