- Undernutrition costs the UK £13 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity
- Every ten minutes, someone in a UK hospital dies from undernutrition
- The condition affects 3 million people in the UK at any one time
A revolutionary new service to tackle the growing problem of undernutrition in the UK is now available to hospital trusts and health care providers nationwide, following a successful pilot scheme. The Heath Call service has been developed by a team of dietitians at the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT) in conjunction with telehealth specialists, Inhealthcare, and a small-scale pilot has saved over £21,000 in just ten months. Over 3 million people in the UK are affected by undernutrition at any one time, with the condition costing the UK £13 billion each year – twice as much as obesity. Of those affected, 93% are community based. CDDFT’s Focus on Undernutrition team developed the Health Call Undernutrition Service to help patients access care from a distance, using funding granted by the Strategic Health Authority. The premise of the Health Call service is simple: patients at risk of undernutrition are invited to receive a weekly automated phone call on a number, day and time of their choice. During the call, the patient is asked to input their weight, their compliance with taking prescribed oral nutritional supplements and their level of appetite via their telephone keypad. These results are immediately fed back to a dedicated system, which sends an email alert to the patient’s named health care professional if the results are of concern. The clinician can then log in to the Health Call system to review the patient’s responses, and decide if any action is required.
If the patient has lost weight or has a poor appetite, the system will recognise them as at risk of further undernutrition and will alert the clinician immediately. The service has been trialled with 100 patients over the course of ten months, and will now be rolled out wider. Before the Health Call service, patients’ supplement requirements were reviewed every one – three months, whereas the Health Call allows clinicians to review patient needs weekly. Over the ten month trial period, the service saved over 61 hours of clinician’s time, as well as almost £20,000 of prescribed nutritional supplements due to the proactive nature of the service.
Rachael Masters, Senior Specialist Dietitian at the Trust, said: “There are three main challenges that teams such as ours in the NHS currently face; we must improve the quality and capacity of our services but also reduce the cost wherever possible. The Health Call service ticks all of those boxes, by allowing us to have contact with more patients more efficiently and in a more convenient way for them and for us. “The Health Call system is not intended to replace the dietitian or health care professional, it is simply to help people use their time more efficiently to reduce costs and increase the number of patients we can monitor as demand grows. “We faced some initial barriers when creating the Health Call with some clinicians wary that the service wouldn’t be accurate enough or would increase caseloads, but the pilot has been so well received by both patients and staff that those barriers just don’t exist any more. Patients have told us they feel more involved in their care, they feel in control, and one even used the phrase ‘life changing.’ The service has helped family members feel more involved in the care of their relatives which has been a big plus. “One of our service users increased their weight by three stones, as the Health Call can act as a prompt for people to take their supplements when they may have previously forgotten.”
Rachael was recently invited to present the Health Call service to fellow clinicians across the globe as part of International Nutrition & Hydration Week, where she was the only NHS dietitian to present a webinar describing the service.
The service is now available for other NHS Trusts and health care organisations, such as care homes, to use by license. For further information about the work done by County Durham & Darlington’s NHS Foundation Trust Focus on Undernutrition Team, visit: http://www.focusonundernutrition.co.uk/