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In 2007, half of all nurses across the UK said that patients were at risk of malnutrition or that there were 'serious problems' with patient nutrition in their workplaces.
The findings, from a RCN survey of more than 2,000 nurses, identified a top twelve list of everyday barriers faced by nurses in helping patients achieve good nutrition.
Inability to access food outside of designated mealtimes was cited as the main problem by 49 per cent of nurses working in hospitals. Almost as many (46 per cent) blamed lack of staff to help patients with eating. Choice of food and presentation of meals were also considered significant barriers.
The findings came six years after the government spent £40 million on a Better Hospital Food programme to improve patient nutrition on wards.
Most nurses rated patient nutrition as 'extremely important'. But more than half (52 per cent) of those actively involved in patient care said they did not have enough time to devote to it.
Debbie Dzik-Jurasz, co-director of the RCN clinical leadership team and head of the Nutrition Now campaign, said: 'The findings fit with recent research that shows poor food choice, high patient dependency and throughput, and pressure to meet targets affect the ability of nursing staff to perform well in all areas of nutritional care.'
Alison McCree, national chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, said it is not difficult to make food available when needed. 'This comes down to better communication between nurses and catering departments.'
A quarter of nurses surveyed said guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence about screening patients on admission for malnutrition are not being met.
The survey coincided with Nutrition Now, a campaign launched by the RCN and Nursing Standard. The Nutrition Now campaign intended to help nurses to improve nutrition and hydration in patients across the UK. RCN general secretary Peter Carter said the Nutrition Now campaign would help to ensure that everyone in the NHS 'from catering staff to chief executives' makes nutrition a priority.
Top 12 barriers to achieving good patient nutrition
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