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Tasty treats are on the menu

17 December 2012

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A project which sees chocolate bars, scones, cake cheese and crackers being offered to certain patients at Southend Hospital to tempt them to eat has been so successful that it is to be eventually extended to other wards.

A team of nurses, matrons, dieticians and catering staff decided to run a snack round to give patients with little relish for food appealing treats as a way of boosting calorie intake and stimulating appetite.

In spite of the best efforts of ward staff and Feeding Buddies, volunteers whose sole remit is to coax elderly and vulnerable patients to eat at mealtimes, a number of confused elderly patients and those with cancer were not eating enough to meet their nutritional requirements, ward staff found.

"Patients eating less than their body requires are more likely to be confused, have little energy, be at a higher risk of falls and take longer to recover," says Claire Buckell, the clinical development nurse behind the scheme. "For some patients who are feeling unwell we need to find new ways to tempt them to eat more."

The project found that patients who often refused or picked at a meal were more than happy to reach for a tasty, high-calorie snack, offered to them from a decorative cake stand by the hospital's red-tabarded Feeding Buddies and ward staff, often accompanied by a refreshing cuppa.

The trial involved patients on the hospital's Elizabeth Loury cancer ward and Stambridge ward (care of the elderly) whose conditions tend to make them disinterested in eating.

And the scheme is already paying off. An audit of the eight-week trial found most patients increased their calorie consumption by an average of 25%, a significant amount for a frail, ill person and enough to help improve the patient's health and well-being.

Some patients even doubled their energy intake.

Some of the patients who were confused had either not eaten their lunch or only managed a couple of spoon-fed mouthfuls were observed to pick up Kit-Kats and eat them unaided and unprompted an hour later.

As well as chocolate bars, crackers, cheese and cake, also on the menu were yoghurts, custard, crisps and bananas.

"The round has enormous emotional and psychological benefits; there were no downsides," says Elizabeth Loury ward manager Liz Bradley.  "It meant the Feeding Buddies could chat with patients. It was offering something a bit extra. Patients and their families loved the way the food was presented on the cake stand.

"We would far rather patients took 100 calories from a chocolate bar than no calories at all."

Health chiefs may now even think about offering a snack at 10am in the longer term so that patients can eat 'little and often' - proven to be beneficial nutritionally.

Feeding Buddy Tracy Porter, who works on Elizabeth Loury ward with friend Pauline Fields, said: "The patients loved it; we were their trolley dollies, there for a chat, a snack and a cuppa. We aren't there doing the bloods; we are there doing the nice stuff."

Patients and their families gave glowing feedback. "It makes the patients feel thought of, which is comforting," reported one patient. "My father looks forward to it," wrote another. "It gives the patients a lot more choice and stimulates the appetite," wrote a carer.

Further comments included describing the snack round as a 'super tonic'; 'good, as I'm not always able to eat a full meal' and 'it helped me eat more during the day and helped my mood'.

The snack round should eventually be extended to other wards. Cost - described as 'pence per patient per day' - may be offset by frequent shorter stays in hospital and increased patient and family satisfaction, as well as savings on expensive nutritional supplements.

Lead dietician Wendy A'ness, pictured front left, said: "The snack round was a success in terms of both patient and staff satisfaction."

"It was nice for staff to add an 'extra' that patients enjoyed plus patients themselves seemed to improve because of the additional attention. Even those patients who did not want the snack appreciated the gesture."

  • Could you be a Feeding Buddy, helping to feed patients at meal or snack-times? Please call voluntary services on 01702 435555 ext 6135/7857 or email feedingbuddies@southend.nhs.uk