Introduction: Poor nutritional status among older people is well documented with 40% of older people reported as malnourished on hospital admission. Poor nutrition contributes to increased infection, poorer patient outcomes and death and longer hospital stays. In this study, we assessed the ‘nutrition narrative’ from older hospital patients together with nutrition knowledge among nursing and medical staff and students.
Methods: The study used a convenience sample of older people (30, mean age 82 years) in two large geographically separate city hospitals. Patients mentally alert and consenting, gave a recorded ‘nutrition narrative’ to get a sense of how they felt their nutritional needs were being met in hospital. Main themes were identified by grounded analysis framework. Focus groups were recruited from medical/nursing teachers and students to assess their working knowledge of nutrition and the nutritional needs of the older patient group.
Results: Analysis of the ‘nutrition narrative’ suggested several themes (i) staff should listen to patients' needs/wishes in discussion with themselves and family members (ii) staff should continue to encourage and progress a positive eating experience (iii) staff should monitor food eaten/or not eaten and increase regular monitoring of weight. The focus groups with medical and nursing students suggested a limited knowledge about nutritional care of older people and little understanding about roles or cross-talk about nutrition across the multidisciplinary groups.
Conclusions: The ‘nutrition narrative’ themes suggested that the nutritional experience of older people in hospital can and must be improved. Nursing and medical staff providing medical and nursing care need better basic knowledge of nutrition and nutritional assessment, an improved understanding of the roles of the various multidisciplinary staff and of hospital catering pathways. Care professionals need to prioritise patient nutrition much more highly and recognise nutritional care as integral to patient healing and recovery.