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Nutritional care in care homes: experiences and attitudes of care home staff

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The Food Award Barnsley (FAB) is organised for care homes that meet nutritional criteria based on national recommendations. Research (Thompson, 2003) highlighted that meeting FAB criteria is not an assurance that residents are receiving adequate nutrition. This is supported by studies demonstrating multiple individual/organisational factors influencing rates of malnutrition in care establishments (Abbasi & Rudman 1994; Health Advisory Services, 2000). To develop a training intervention to support FAB, an understanding of the role, perceptions and attitudes of care staff in the process of nutritional care was required. The main research aims were to describe staff's experiences of nutritional care of service users, to explore staff's attitudes towards nutritional care of service users and to highlight issues relating to nutritional care which could be considered when developing training programmes or provide the basis for future research. Methods: 

A care home that held the silver FAB, offered nursing and residential care and had more than 20 beds was chosen. Maximum variation sampling was used to select a cross-section of staff in terms of position, level of education and length of service. Twelve semi-structured interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed using the template approach as developed by King (1998). The process from which the conclusions of the study were drawn was made clear through documentation. The audit trail within the final report demonstrates dependability and confirmation and hence the rigour of the study. Results: 

In general staff felt they were effective in identifying and addressing issues of malnutrition. However, from a dietetic perspective there was a fragmented approach to nutritional care. At all levels ‘confused role expectations’, lack of clear action planning, poor communication and attitudes towards malnutrition represented a significant barrier to good nutritional care within the home. Despite using a nutritional screening tool, staff relied more heavily on their own subjective judgement to identify residents who they thought were malnourished. Care home staff at all grades considered a poor appetite to be a ‘normal’ part of ageing and some felt that in conditions such as Parkinson's Disease it was expected that residents would lose weight. Portion sizes were reduced regardless of the need for compensation for reduced nutritional intake. Discussion: 

The lack of a coherent approach to nutritional care coupled with poor communication at all levels resulted in the risk that residents were not receiving appropriate nutritional care. Staff relied on their own judgement, not an objective measure; to identify residents they thought were at risk of malnutrition. These problems were compounded by attitudes of staff at all levels to nutrition, weight and ageing which resulted in lack of intervention in residents who were malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. Conclusion: 

This study highlights barriers to changing the process of nutritional care within the home which should be addressed through training, whilst ensuring national nutritional standards for provision of food are met. References 

Abbasi, A. & Rudman, D. (1994) Under nutrition in the nursing home: Prevalence, consequences, cause and prevention. Nutr. Rev. 52, 113–122.

Health Advisory Services. (2000) “Not Because they are Old”. An Independent Inquiry into the Care of Older People on Acute Wards in General Hospitals. London: Health Advisory Services.

King, N. (1998) Template analysis. In Qualitative Methods and Analysis in Organisational Research. eds C. Cassell & G. Symons, pp. 118–134. London: Sage.

Thompson, L. (2003) Nutritional Perceptions among Staff Working in a Care Home for Elderly People and the Potential for Nutrition Education. BSc thesis, Leeds Metropolitan University.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Community Dietitian, New Street Health Centre, Barnsley, UK 2: Head of Nutrition and Dietetics, Faculty of Health, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK, Email:

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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