Health CommitteeWritten evidence from the Southampton NIHR Biomedical Research Unit (Nutrition, Diet & Lifestyle) (ETWP 108)

Summary

Nutrition is a fundamental determinant of the health and wellbeing of people, populations and patients receiving care and all health professionals need to be appropriately trained in nutrition to assure their safety and competence to practise.

There is a need to improve current standards of education and training in nutrition across the health workforce in order to improve the delivery and effectiveness of the nutritional aspects of clinical care and public health interventions.

Central to this ambition, is the need for clinical and academic leadership in nutrition to drive forward education and training across the health workforce, to build the necessary nutrition-related research infrastructure and to stimulate research into the most effective means of enhancing nutritional wellbeing.

We urge that future education, training and workforce planning consider the need to enable academic career opportunities for those required to lead on education, training and research in nutrition, and who can improve the safety and effectiveness of clinical care and public health interventions.

1.1 Southampton is recognised internationally for its basic and translational research in nutrition, diet and lifestyle and its commitment to developing a health workforce competent in nutrition, in terms of both public health and clinical care. Working together, the University of Southampton, the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and the University Hospitals Southampton Foundation NHS Trust have pioneered a life-course approach to the prevention and treatment of major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and have played a lead role in developing nutrition training for health professionals and the integration of nutrition into the clinical care of patients across the NHS. Since 2008, these interests have come together with the establishment of the Southampton NIHR Biomedical Research Unit (Nutrition, Diet & Lifestyle) which will become the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre in Nutrition in 2012.

1.2 Nutrition—what we eat, how active we are and how we live our lives—is an important determinant of the health and wellbeing of people and of populations, and of people’s needs during and responses to illness. Improving diet and lifestyle are key public health targets for improving health across the lifecourse, and reducing the impact of disease.

1.3 There is a nutritional dimension to most aspects of clinical care as poor nutrition may cause ill-health and disease may lead to undernourishment. There is considerable evidence that attention to nutritional care before, during and after illness improves outcome, reduces the costs of clinical care and hospital stay, and is associated with improved quality of life and patient satisfaction. Improving the way that the nutritional aspects of care are recognised and delivered is a core function of all health care professionals, not just those with a specialised role such as Registered Dieticians, and Nutritionists and Public Health Nutritionists registered with the Association for Nutrition.

1.4 Nutritional issues are common in clinical and public health practice, but are often not recognised or adequately managed by doctors, and other health professionals, leading to increased costs and adverse outcomes. Competence in nutrition varies widely across all aspects of the health workforce as there are insufficient opportunities to learn about nutrition, and become competent in the basic aspects of nutrition during pre-registration training as well as limited accredited training opportunities after qualification. We endorse the call by the Intercollegiate Group in Human Nutrition to introduce a core curriculum in nutrition within pre-registration training and the need for accredited learning and defined professional standards in nutrition made by the Association for Nutrition.

1.5 We believe that there is a need to build capacity in nutrition across the health workforce and improve the quality of nutritional advice and care offered to people, populations and patients. Central to this ambition is the need for clinical academics and researchers who will be able to demonstrate clinical leadership in nutrition, to drive forward education and training in nutrition for health professionals, enhance the capabilities for the assessment of nutritional status, and conduct research that will build the evidence base for safe and effective clinical care and public health interventions. We acknowledge the support of the NIHR to build infrastructure for translational research in nutrition within the NHS and academic sector, such as at Southampton, but urge consideration of the need to build academic careers in nutrition, both for clinicians who access nutrition in the delivery of public health and clinical care and for nutritionists with the necessary core understanding and skills in nutrition needed to support research and service development.

Conclusion

1.6 There is a need for a health workforce that is appropriately trained in nutrition to assure their safety and competence to practise.

1.7 There is a need to improve the education and training of all health professionals in nutrition, both at pre-registration and post-qualification levels.

1.8 We urge that there is a need to build capacity in nutrition, and that central to this ambition, is the need to develop career pathways for clinical academics and researchers in nutrition to drive forward education, training and research who will improve the safety and effectiveness of clinical care and public health interventions.

December 2011

Prepared 22nd May 2012