ST TERESA’S HOSPICE is set to introduce a new holistic dietary care package for in-patients.

The Patient-led Assessment for Nutritional Care (PLANC) pilot project aims to help patients at the Darlington hospice, whose appetite may be affected by their conditions and therapies.

The new approach to nutrition will replace a more rigid national approach introduced to help prevent the effects of malnutrition in people with life-limiting illnesses

In-patient care unit sister Sarah Metcalf said: “Often enjoyment and pleasure from eating and drinking can decline and diet can becomes a source of stress and anxiety for patients and carers.

“PLANC uses algorithms which identify nutritional issues and determine the best approach depending on the patient’s stage of disease. This allows us to have conversations with patients and carers that would not otherwise have happened.

“It is hard for families to see their loved ones go off their food when they are used to seeing them consuming hearty meals. But with many conditions this loss of appetite is a natural process.”

Patient-led Assessment for Nutritional Care is used to consider the patient’s condition and the reasons for being off their food as well as looking at calorie intake and any weight loss and moves on to prompt intervention by doctors or dieticians.

The new project also ensures that those who may be in the last few weeks of their life understand the process required in order to promote their quality of life.

Mrs Metcalf added: “Patients are given whatever they want to eat whenever they want it. They may crave sweet stuffs or strong flavours as conditions can lead them to lose their taste.

“Sometimes it might be a case of having a dry mouth and needing a bit more gravy or custard. Ulcers might make eating painful and this is a condition we can sort out, after which they often resume eating normally.

“There’s the presumption that all patients’s appetites will decline but some, for instance those who are taking steroids, are often more hungry and enjoy eating three three-course meals a day.

“This is about looking more in depth at individual needs, whether that means serving lobster or an early Christmas dinner.”

Food is also prepared and served outside traditional mealtimes, throughout both the day and night, thanks to the flexible kitchen staff who monitor carefully the patients’s needs.

Evidence suggests that, in the UK, between 40 and 80 per cent of cancer patients suffer from a loss of appetite, with many of those patients also experiencing weakness and wasting of the body due to chronic illness.

St Teresa’s Hospice has six community palliative care beds, used to provide respite care, pain and symptom management and support for patients and their families.

The in-patient unit also provides a range of comforts.