Small but mighty: Dietitians show strength on the frontline during COVID-19

Oldham Dietetics Team - June 2020
Small but mighty: Dietitians show strength on the frontline during COVID-19
01 June 2020

It's Dietitian's Week (1-5 June) and Sarah Parker from the Dietetics team tells us more about how this small but mighty team have played a vital role in caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dietitians Week is traditionally an annual celebration of dietitians, dietetics and those that work to support them.

More than ever this year, the dietetics team felt it was an opportunity to raise awareness of the role of dietitians here at Oldham Care Organisation - and to celebrate the strength that this team has shown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As one of the frontline allied health professions (AHPs), the dietitians at Oldham form the third largest clinical AHP workforce after Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists. Despite this, the dietetics team only consists of eight dietitians who work on the adult wards, three within paediatric services and three dietetic assistants. Though small in number, the team have proven themselves to be a mighty force - and essential members of the frontline teams providing life-saving treatment for all COVID patients - from those on Critical Care, to those being rehabilitated prior to discharge.

The team has been involved in emergency planning for the pandemic from the start. This has involved ensuring enough resource is in place to manage the increased capacity for tube-fed patients on intensive care. It has also meant upskilling and training more dietitians to cover ICU patients and increasing their knowledge to enable them to work across different specialities, including adult and paediatric work.

The team have also been busy with the national sourcing of extra feeding pumps and equipment as a result of increased patient numbers and with writing emergency feed plans for gravity/bolus feeding, to ensure that the hospital is prepared if feeding pumps were ever to run out.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trust’s dietitians have been providing tailored tube feeding treatment plans and ordering specialist feeds to manage the more complex ICU patients who were being proned (laid on their fronts) to aid respiratory management and fluid overload, whilst reacting to daily changes in national guidance, running outpatient clinics by telephone and managing increased referral numbers.

Dietitians have worked at the frontline in full PPE on all wards and alongside ICU medics, nurses and other key AHPs and as they will report, it has been an exhilarating, exhausting rollercoaster – but one that they wouldn’t have missed.

Sarah Parker, Operational and Professional Lead for Nutrition and Dietetics at The Royal Oldham Hospital, said: “We are now only just beginning to see the long lasting effect that COVID-19 is having on our patients' nutritional status; those patients struggling with loss of lean body muscle, fatigue, reduced appetite and taste changes. Dietitians provide treatment for all of these symptoms and support nutritional care to aid long term recovery.”

A new initiative for all patients following their stay in hospital has been to distribute ‘Nutritional Information Packs’ containing information and recipe ideas to support a patient’s rehabilitation and improve nutrition once they return home. These packs are available on all wards for nursing staff to give to patients at the point of discharge if they are struggling with eating. This project has been supported by the Greater Manchester Nutrition and Hydration Initiative and Age UK Oldham, and has also fostered closer working with the Oldham Community Dietitians team.

Sarah adds: “The expert knowledge, professionalism, co-operation and ‘can do’ attitude within the team has been outstanding over recent weeks and we are very proud to wear our dietitian uniforms. The British Dietetic Association’s - Dietitians Week 2020 gives us an opportunity to reflect upon what has been achieved, what we can improve and how as dietitians we can continue to evolve to meet the needs of our patients in the future.”

For more information on Dietitians Week 2020 and the British Dietetic Association visit: https://www.bda.uk.com/news-campaigns/campaigns/dietitians-week.html

For more information on GM Nutrition & Hydration visit: www.ageuk.org.uk/salford/about-us/improving-nutrition-and-hydration/