The government has unveiled plans that will see nurses assessed on basic nutrition as part of their training.
The move is part of a raft of measures unveiled by health minister Ivan Lewis aimed at tackling malnutrition among elderly patients amid concerns that nurses are failing to help people eat.
And Mr Lewis added that nurses and NHS managers who "neglect" older people should face disciplinary action.
The Department of Health (DH), and groups including Age Concern, the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), and the Healthcare Commission, produced the plan after forming a Nutrition Summit to address the problem.
Mr Lewis said: "This really is the most significant drive to put nutrition at the heart of care of older people that we have seen in this country.
"There will be no overnight solutions or magic wands, but we somehow have to change the culture that says nutrition is not important.
"It's as important as access to the right medication."
A range of actions have already been agreed, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council has said that nutrition principles will be assessed in practice as part of student nurse training from September 2008.
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"As nurses I feel we should take a good look at our own diet and lifestyle and the way we feel about food. Long shift patterns and working unsocial hours can lead to weight problems and type 2 diabetes if a balanced diet is not followed. Being of the old school training I am apalled to find nutrition is not considered important enough to be in the nurse training at the moment. I work in General Practice and already this morning I have done three OGTTs in one small practice. Diabetes care is already a huge burden to the NHS, are we as nurses going to contribute to this as well? - Name and address supplied
"Nutrition is an essential part of individual daily living and should be taken seriously, therfore by adding nutrition as a part of the nurse training programme it should increase individuals involvement in the subject" - Name and address supplied
"Nutrition is a basic principle of nursing. Often nurses seem to be too busy to provide basic nutritional care for their patients on ward settings (such as feeding them, or making sure that their meals are within reach) and it is well known that good nutrition has an imprtant part to play in improving patients outcomes and reducing length of stay. Nurses have taken on some amazing roles, but the basic roles haven't been covered by other members of ward staff. In the community also, nutrition is often neglected, with nurses forgetting that nutrition again can aid wound healing, prevent/minimise the risk of pressure sores, and improve patient well being. We should be encouraging the use of good, validated nutritional screening tools, with solid, evidence based care plans, to make nutritional screening and treatment something which is easy to achieve, and something which is considered to be as important as accessing the right medication" - Michelle Sutcliffe, Registered Dietitian,
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