Introduction Eating and drinking is a significant part of social structure. People with advanced life-limiting illnesses encounter a range of difficulties with food and drink, often experiencing reduced appetite and weight loss as their disease progresses. Functional capacity, fatigue and mood also contribute to the capability to eat and drink. In turn, inability to eat and drink has a psychological impact on dying people and those close to them. Nutritional and hydration needs management for people who are dying often receives scant attention.
Aims To attempt to ensure that hospice patients routinely receive optimal nutritional care, contributing to enhanced quality of life, and reducing harm from malnutrition and dehydration.
Methods A multi-professional nutrition group was established to explore and manage concerns about nutrition and hydration. Two nurses took on roles as link nurses, developing learning resources and events (e.g. study days and support from nutrition specialists) and undertaking audit on nutrition and hydration.
Results The group developed a policy on nutrition and hydration. The link nurses developed their own knowledge, and helped colleagues to learn to manage the nutritional needs of their patients and families. They gained a better understanding of the roles of specialists and developed their working relationships with colleagues from other disciplines, some of whom commented favourably on the level of interest shown. Feedback from colleagues on the training and support was positive; many staff members felt that the link nurses and specialists brought credibility to the learning events. Audit results showed that the organisation successfully delivered many aspects of nutritional support at the end of life and indicated a need to improve record-keeping on nutrition and hydration.
Conclusion Hospice nurses are well-placed to support their colleagues to develop knowledge and skills in nutrition and hydration. They are easily accessible to give advice and act as role models for their colleagues.
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