Nutrition screening to be introduced for all patients admitted to hospital

Treatment of malnutrition to be strengthened in hospitals

New nutrition protocols of benefit to Covid-19 patients

30,000 bed days and €24m can be saved per year – as experts welcome new National Clinical Guideline

Screening and increased treatment to prevent malnutrition is planned for all patients admitted to Irish hospitals, as part of a new National Clinical Guideline on patient nutrition released this week.

The key protocol is the roll out of nutrition screening, as part of all admissions to public hospitals.

Those identified as at risk, because of weight loss and inadequate intake, will typically receive high protein and energy diets while in hospital, together with oral nutrition supplements (ONS) as needed.

Nurses will conduct screening and higher risk patients will be referred to hospital dietitians for assessment and follow up. All inpatients are to be re-screened weekly.

The Guideline Nutrition screening and use of oral nutrition support for adults in the acute care setting has been developed through the National Clinical Effectiveness Committee (NCEC), and published by the Department of Health.

The Guideline has this week been mandated for implementation across hospitals by the Minister for Health Simon Harris and released early, as the recommended screening and treatments are relevant to patients admitted with Covid-19.

To date some hospitals have already introduced nutrition screening while some have not, with significant differences across the country. 

The publication has been welcomed by the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN), which was a key contributor.

IrSPEN President and Guideline Development Group Co Chair Consultant Surgeon Professor John Reynolds acknowledged current pressures on hospital services – but encouraged hospitals to work towards implementation.

“Malnutrition is estimated to affect 3% of the Irish population (circa 150,000) including people who live with serious diseases, who have difficulty swallowing, people with dementia, and frail older people. However, this population accounts for 30% of public hospital admissions, has three times the rate of complications and stays 30% longer in hospital,” he said.

IrSPEN Director and Nutrition Consultant Niamh Rice said the Guideline would bring better outcomes for vulnerable patients and cost savings for the health system.

“Ensuring that this cohort of vulnerable patients become identified and properly nourished while in our hospitals, will reduce complication and infection rates, get patients back home sooner and reduce their chance of readmissions.”

The National Guidelines were developed by a multi-disciplinary group led by Clinical Specialist Dietitian, Carmel O’Hanlon.

Ms O’Hanlon, who also co-authored guidance for nutrition support of ICU patients, described how the protocol is important for healthcare professionals treating coronavirus patients.

“Many patients admitted to hospital with the virus, are likely to have been unwell for up to ten days while at home and have had significant loss of appetite. Even patients with obesity are at risk– so all should be screened and potentially treated. Most of the post-ICU Covid-19 patients will also have difficulty getting back to full diet and need a nutritional follow-up.

“While acknowledging that our health services are under unprecedented pressure, the Guideline presents an opportunity to support outcomes for Covid-19 patients,” she said.

Data published by Professor Charles Normand and Niamh Rice in 2012 estimated the human and financial cost of malnutrition in Ireland to be enormous, with most incurred in acute care settings.

The new publication is accompanied by a detailed Budget Impact Analysis, which shows that by treating the identified patients with oral nutritional supplementation, 31,750 bed days (across all hospitals) can be released back into the system annually. The net savings, taking into account additional dietetic and nursing resources required, are estimated at €24million.

Guideline Development Group Co Chair and Consultant Geriatrician Dr. Declan Byrne amplified the relevance of strong nutrition support during the Covid-19 crisis: “The average age of people dying with Covid-19 is above 80. This is the same population with the most undernutrition and the group where this Guideline can have biggest positive impact.

“There is a likelihood that the prevalence of malnutrition on admission will be even higher than usual this year, because of delayed presentation of patients with non-Covid conditions. We therefore need to work towards applying screening and treatments across our hospitals.”

The clinical guidelines were developed through the National Clinical Effectiveness Committee (NCEC) by a multi-professional Guideline Development Group Co-Chaired by Professor John Reynolds and Dr. Declan Byrne.

In conclusion Professor John Reynolds thanked project lead Carmel O’Hanlon, the HSE including National Dietetic Lead Margaret O’Neill, IrSPEN, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) and many other professionals and national bodies who contributed to the national standard.

Nutrition screening and use of oral nutrition support for adults in the acute care setting can be viewed at here (guideline 22). See also www.irspen.ie

Further Information

Ronan Cavanagh, Cavanagh Communications: (086) 317 9731.

Notes to Editors

  • The Guideline does not cover patients attending private hospitals, or large numbers of people with malnutrition living in the community (in the home, in nursing homes, or other care facilities).
  • The effects of malnutrition on patients include: impaired immune response, reduced muscle strength and fatigue, inactivity, impaired body temperature regulation, impaired wound healing, impaired regulation of salt and fluid and impaired psycho-social function.