Friday, 30 March 2012


Bandstand and trees in the mist
Pump Room Gardens, May 2012
Today is Friday, the last of my pointless days off, without which I would have felt cheated, but after which there is always twice as much work to do. So yesterday was my last full day in the week, trying at least to see every patient who hadn't been seen the previous week. Yes, I'm struggling to review longstanding patients once a fortnight now.

While I was thus engaged, every colleague in the hospital was conspiring against me. A patient is going home with a tube feed, and both colleagues in the Dietetics office who help out in this situation were on holiday. Another patient may be going home on a puree diet, and will need information and advice on how to achieve this at home. A doctor has specifically requested a Dietitian to see a patient with interesting blood results as soon as possible. A previously tube-fed patient is now able to eat, so the tube feed has to be adjusted or discontinued. A Ward Manager wanted to talk to me in her office about a specific patient, and I had a lecture to attend at lunchtime and my first clinical supervision after lunch.

Patients leaving my wards are almost as much work as patients who stay there. I am still trying to grasp all the different options and processes that need to be followed. If they are eating and drinking well when they go home I can put their Dietetic Record Card in a plastic basket in the office and relax (this is rare). There is a different basket for 'RIP' cards. If a patient is transferred to a different hospital, we have to contact the dietitians there and let them know what the situation is, especially if the patient is being tube-fed, and sometimes send the Record Card over as well (depending on whether the hospital is in our region or not).

If a patient goes home but is not likely to eat and drink enough, there are a number of options. I can write to the GP asking for supplements to be prescribed for a period of time and leave it up to the GP to review the situation, or send the patient an outpatient appointment with a Dietitian (there is a different basket for the Record Card if this is the case). If the patient is going to a nursing home, I can be fairly confident that their nutritional status will be monitored, but I can pass the Record Card to our Community Dietitian if there are any worries. She also looks after every patient who is sent home with a feeding tube, whether it is being used or not. Even if not used, the tube needs to be looked after, and eventually removed.

If a tube is being used for feeding into the stomach, there are many administrative and practical steps that must be taken before discharge. The patient needs to be sent home with enough supplies to ensure they are fed until further supplies are delivered. This means bags of feed (between 7 and 14 kg altogether), a pump, a stand, tubes to connect the feeding tube and the feed, syringes for flushing the tube with water, and sometimes a water container have to be physically taken to the ward in time for the discharge. There is a form that gives the patient and/or their carers instructions on how much feed to give at what rate over a specific period of time and how much additional water is needed. They need to sign a form to consent to their address details being given to the company that will be delivering the feed. The Dietitian has to register the patient with this company and provide all the same details and more, and then print a letter to the GP asking for the feed prescription to be arranged. Then all this is handed over with the Record Card to the Community Dietitian. Sometimes the ward forgets to mention that someone is due to be discharged on a feed imminently, so everything else has to stop until it is all sorted out.

More difficult is if the patient needs a modified texture diet, especially if they are elderly. Constructing a nutritionally adequate diet when everything has to be blended to a smooth lump-free puree is not straightforward, especially if the patient doesn't have a blender or liquidiser. If fluids also need to be thickened, then the choice of supplements is limited too. Chances are that the patient will lose weight, become dehydrated, and/or eat or drink something that goes down the wrong way and they end up with a chest infection or worse. There is a commercial company that will deliver pureed ready meals, a bit like Meals on Wheels, which can help a great deal, as long as the patient can afford it. It is likely that the patient will be on supplements long-term, and even need to be seen occasionally in outpatients.

There are different baskets for Record Cards of clinic outpatients who are going to come back for a further appointment, outpatients who have been discharged, and outpatients who didn't attend their appointments. There is another basket of Record Cards for upcoming outpatient clinics. There are probably more baskets that I'm not even aware of yet, perhaps for newly referred patients, and for IV feeders at home (Home Parenteral Nutrition).The Dietetic admin staff who manage all these baskets (and much more) are universally helpful, patient and good-natured, and don't seem to mind me asking the same questions multiple times. In fact, all the Dietetic staff seem friendly and supportive (have I mentioned that before? Probably). Tonight we have arranged a departmental outing in a local Indian restaurant, and despite my nervousness about large social groups, I think it will be fun.

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