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Greater screening for malnutrition promoted at 2019 ONCA conference in Cambridge

The NHS and other healthcare providers were encouraged to adopt greater nutritional screening for patients at a conference in Cambridge attended by professionals and patients from 18 European countries.

The Optimal Nutritional Care for All (ONCA) annual conference was designed to help share best practice in nutritional care internationally.

The 2019 ONCA Coference in Cambridge. Picture: Julian Claxton Photography (22415326)
The 2019 ONCA Coference in Cambridge. Picture: Julian Claxton Photography (22415326)

Held at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and the University Arms Hotel on November 19-20, the conference is organised by the ONCA campaign, which is now in its fifth year of encouraging greater screening for disease-related malnutrition and undernutrition, and nutritional care implementation across Europe.

Among the keynote speakers was Lord Andrew Lansley, the former Secretary of State for Health, who called for guidance from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) to be better implemented.

“Malnutrition is a major cause of poor outcomes for patients, especially amongst older patients,” he said. “NICE has identified that screening for nutritional status and delivering a resulting care plan as being amongst the most cost-effective interventions for the NHS.

“It is especially needed in the absence of active social care support for many older people. At this well-timed conference, I am adding my voice to those calling for NHS England further to build on their commissioning guidance by creating a new clinical director post, to promote the take-up of guidance and to improve outcomes for patients in this critical respect.”

NICE guidelines for nurses published in 2018 called for all healthcare professionals involved in patient care to be trained in the importance of nutrition.

Outlining what support should be given in hospital, the guidelines also advise screening for malnutrition or risk of malnutrition at GP surgeries upon patient registrations where there is clinical concern, and at other appropriate times, such as when flu jabs are given or health checks carried out.

Care homes were also advised to carry out screening on admission and at appropriate times.

The conference, which tackled subjects including education in healthcare, patient safety and public policy, heard from professional societies, decision-makers and patient groups.

Caroline Bovey, chair of the British Dietetic Association, said: “The British Dietetic Association have been pleased to support this important conference, bringing together some of the best minds from across Europe to help us tackle this difficult issue.

“Nobody should have to suffer from disease-related malnutrition, be they in the community or in an acute hospital. Good nutrition is the foundation of good health and this needs to be better recognised in our health and care sectors, with greater support from government to ensure everyone can access good nutritional care.”

Dr Trevor Smith, president of the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN), added: “With the new and evolving NHS and social care structure here in the UK, never before has there been a real opportunity to truly integrate nutrition into all care settings and pathways. This conference has given us the opportunity to share and learn from other countries but more importantly hear directly from patients about what their needs are, where the gaps are and how we can work together to try and achieve a fairer access to timely nutritional care.”

Among the patient associations represented was PINNT (Patients On Intravenous & Nasogastric Nutrition Therapy), which works for those dependent on home artificial nutrition due to intestinal failure and diseased related malnutrition.

Chair Carolyn Wheatley said: “PINNT is keen to ensure the needs of those on long-term artificial nutrition are heard and met. Homecare is a growing area and one that needs equal prominence along the patient pathway.”

Frank De Man, from ONCA, said: “Considering that the conference is co-hosted by UK patient organisations and key professional societies at such a politically challenging time, this is a clear and strong sign of their enduring commitment to advance nutritional care in the UK and work together with their colleagues across European health communities.”

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