• community dietitians;
  • malnutrition;
  • nutritional assessments;
  • older people;
  • oral nutritional supplements;
  • primary care practitioners


Background  A review of the General Medical (Payments) Scheme data in the Midland Health Board (MHB) Ireland identified a spend of just over € 0.5 million on enteral nutritional supplements (oral and tube feeds) in an 11-month period in 1998 [General Medical Services (Payments) Board, 1998, MHB Clinical Nutritional Products: January–December 1998, Dublin]. In 2000, a figure of €5 million was reported as the annual spend (oral and tube feeds) [General Medical Services (Payments) Board, 2000, MHB Clinical Nutritional Products: January–December 2000, Dublin].

Research has shown that a high proportion of Oral Nutritional Supplements (ONS) are inappropriately prescribed by primary care practitioners (Gall et al., 2001).

The role of General Practitioners (GPs) and Public Health Nurses (PHNs) in prescribing ONS to patients aged 65 years and older was examined, as they are directly involved in the delivery of primary health care.

Aim  (i) Assess current trends, decision-making processes and monitoring procedures in the use of ONS for older patients in the community. (ii) Identify whether nutritional assessments and appropriate nutritional criteria are standard practice in determining selection of ONS.

Methods  A study was conducted among 99 GPs and 120 PHNs in the MHB. All GPs were selected to participate and 50% (60) of PHNs were randomly selected. A telephone questionnaire was administered to each subject over a 2-week period.

Results  Both GPs (78%) and PHNs (47%) reported that their prescription of/recommendations for ONS had increased in the last 4 years. None conducted a full nutritional assessment, but 25% of PHNs used a Nutrition Screening Tool when trying to ascertain whether a patient requires an ONS. Only 19.6% of GPs and 6.8% of PHNs surveyed were aware of the calorie content of a standard 200 mL ONS (sip-feed). In addition, a very significant proportion of both GPs and PHNs do not appear to give appropriate dietary advice to patients who may be at risk of malnutrition. Only 55% of GPs stated that they would specifically review a patient's ONS prescription. All GPs said that they would not conduct a full nutritional assessment at the review appointment.

Conclusion  The results of this study raise concerns as to the appropriateness of current ONS prescription and monitoring in the community. They also highlight the need for further intervention in the primary care setting in order to ensure that elderly malnourished patients are detected, treated and monitored in an appropriate and cost-effective manner.