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Innovative project to prevent undernutrition in hospitals is first of its kind in the UK

A team of nurses, dietitians and caterers from County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT), is launching a new project to tackle undernutrition and dehydration in patients.

Every ten minutes, someone with malnutrition dies in a UK hospital . As a result, CDDFT's Nutrition and Hydration Improvement Team is piloting a new project.

F4 - exec Med Dir with patient

Executive Medical Director, Professor Chris Gray and patient, Doris Hindmarch. 

The project, called 'F4' - 'Focus on Food and Fluid First', will be trialled in two wards at Darlington Memorial Hospital. It aims to tackle the problem of undernourishment in patients, helps prevent them from losing further weight during their stay in hospital, as well as providing support once they are discharged.

34 per cent of UK patients are malnourished when they are admitted to hospital. Of these, a high proportion experience a further decline in nutrition status levels and weight during their stay. Patients who are malnourished do not recover as well or as quickly as those with a healthy body mass index, and may require longer or further stays in hospital as a result.

Patients at risk of undernutrition are often treated with a prescribed nutritional supplement to help them gain weight, but many patients have reported disliking the taste. The new campaign will focus on using foods such as fortified milkshakes, food dishes and mousses, rather than prescribed oral nutritional supplements, as treatment for undernutrition. This method is not only preferred by patients, but is also more cost effective. Some of these specially fortified foods and drinks will be used for the first time in a hospital environment as part of the campaign.

Patients will also be provided with extra support at mealtimes through the introduction of a new volunteer scheme within the Trust. Any member of CDDFT staff will be allowed to volunteer once a month to give 45 minutes of their usual working day to support and encourage patients at mealtimes. Friends and family will also be encouraged to visit patients at mealtimes to further support the patient's recovery.

Once the patient has been released from hospital, they will be provided with tools to support them. Leaflets on eating to meet nutritional needs have been developed, and patients who are discharged home on nutritional supplements will receive a weekly 'health call' - an automated telephone call to monitor their weight, appetite and compliance in taking their nutritional supplement. Patients will also be provided with a 'hospital to home' food parcel, containing staple items such as bread and milk, to support those who may have had a long stay in hospital and have no food at home.

All frontline staff will complete full training on the new nutritional standards during 2014, and the new method will form part of staff induction.

Rachael Masters, Senior Specialist Dietitian at the Trust, said: "Undernutrition is a big problem not only in our region but across the UK, and is one of NHS England's key focuses for 2014, which is why we need to really focus on making this a priority for our patients.

"The Focus on Undernutrition team here at CDDFT have built up a strong reputation over the years, and are now recognised as the UK's flagship service by national organisations. Two members of CDDFT have been selected to be national ambassadors for International Nutrition and Hydration Week which is a fantastic honour and is representative of the great work being done in our region to combat these important issues. We're really excited to launch the F4 project, and hope it will be used as an exemplar of good practice to Trusts across the country."

For more information on the F4 project - CLICK HERE

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Patient, Coronary Heart Disease / Heart Failure Service, Shotley Bridge Community Hospital