A qualitative analysis of the nutritional requirements of palliative care patients


C. I. Muir, c/o Roxburghe House, Ashgrove Road, Aberdeen AB25 2ZH, UK.
E-mail: c.i.muir.04@aberdeen.ac.uk


Background:  The National Health Servive (NHS) Quality Improvement Scotland developed nutritional Clinical Standards to address the problem of malnutrition in hospitals. NHS palliative care units are obliged to incorporate these standards into nutritional aspects of care. The nutritional needs of this patient population are under-researched. The present study aimed to explore patients’ views of nutrition, to begin to understand their concerns and to determine whether such standards meet the needs of patients in the palliative care setting.

Methods:  A qualitative study was conducted in 2009 in an NHS Palliative Care Unit. Six inpatients were involved in one-to-one interviews, which were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were subject to qualitative data analysis in accordance with a previous framework.

Results:  A recurring theme that emerged was that of change and uncertainty. Four main areas subject to change were: disease state, symptoms, oral dietary intake and weight. Each change could exert control over, or be controlled by, the patient. When patients were eventually unable to exert control, they accepted the change, either willingly or enforced, thereby unintentionally setting their own targets.

Conclusions:  The present study enables a deeper understanding of the concerns that palliative care patients have regarding their oral dietary intake and weight. Their ‘malnutrition’ not only refers to physical malnutrition alone, but also incorporates psychological and social ‘malnutrition’. When applying standards or protocols regarding nutritional care, these wider issues must be taken into account to meet patients’ nutritional needs.