Prioritising Nutritional Care Leads To Improved Patient Outcomes - Why We Need To Act Now

13/03/2017 13:28 GMT | Updated 14/03/2018 09:12 GMT

Staying fit and well for as long as possible and keeping out of hospital are important goals for all of us. Nutrition and hydration both play a key role in our wellbeing, and even more so when we're ill. Yet, we don't seem to always get it right.

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • One in three people admitted to hospital in the UK have, or are at risk of malnutrition
  • Malnutrition imposes a huge burden on the NHS health and social care budget - £19.6 billion per year in England alone
  • A malnourished patient costs the NHS three times more to treat than a well-nourished patient

Malnutrition should not exist in our society since we have all the necessary tools at our finger tips to address it. And that's what Nutrition and Hydration Week (13th - 19th March 2017) highlights: the importance of nutrition and hydration as an essential part of patient care.

Malnutrition is an avoidable cost to the NHS

Malnutrition and dehydration are both causes and consequences of illness, and both have a negative impact on health outcomes. For example, long-term conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diseases of the digestive tract and cancer are all associated with malnutrition. The disease can increase specific nutrient needs, influence what and how much we eat and affect how our body processes nutrients. In the community, it's the elderly who are most at risk, as they tend to be more vulnerable especially if they are socially isolated.

Despite the fact that we have National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines and quality standards in place to ensure malnutrition and dehydration are identified and managed, we still read reports of patients not getting access to adequate fluids and nutrition and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) cutting prescriptions of specialised nutrition products.

To do this is a false economy; here's why:

  • Patients with malnutrition have more complications including poor wound healing, more infections and slower recovery times after surgery
  • Patients with malnutrition stay longer in the hospital, have more readmissions and see their GP more often
  • Malnourished patients have a lower quality and life and are less independent, which also impacts health and social care resources

Good nutrition helps keep people out of hospital

We all instinctively know that proper nutrition is the foundation for good health throughout life. That's why, when we're sick, nutrition plays a key role in supporting our recovery and helps keep us out of hospital. In turn, that helps to cut healthcare costs. In fact according to NICE, delivering optimal nutritional care could provide the fifth largest cost saving to the NHS.

Identifying and managing malnutrition appropriately is key. Studies show that providing oral nutritional supplements under medical supervision can have significant health and cost benefits.

  • A recent care home and community study, where malnutrition was managed using oral nutritional supplements, showed a significant cost saving of nearly 10% and clinical benefits compared with standard care over a 3-month period
  • A study by Advocate Health Care and Abbott of more than 1,200 malnourished patients found that improving nutrition care in the hospital helped reduce re-admissions by 27% and length of stay by 25%

So the recipe is simple: by prioritising nutrition and hydration in the hospital and community with routine screening, appropriate management and regular follow-up, healthcare providers can give their patients the best chance of recovery and get them back to living a healthy life - while reducing healthcare costs.