Dietitian Nicky helps patients to fight Covid with better nutrition

Community Dietitian Nicky Vernede, one of Oxford Health's many Allied Health Professionals, tells us of her experience of being redeployed as a Dietitian to community hospital wards to give extra nutritional support to Coronavirus patients during the pandemic.

Dietitian Nicky helps patients to fight Covid with better nutrition

Nicky, who is usually based out of East Oxford Health Centre, would normally be found hopping between community clinics in Wheatley, Bicester and Henley, helping patients that have been referred by their doctor because of their dietary needs.

One day she could be supporting parents of babies with cow’s milk allergies and another day helping those with children who have restricted eating.

Or she could be facilitating one of the regular education sessions for around 10-20 patients with newly diagnosed Type II diabetes. Nicky also helps patients with nutritional deficiencies and irritable bowel syndrome.

However, this all changed in 2020. As a result of COVID-19 Nicky, along with two other dietitians, was redeployed to Wallingford and Bicester community hospitals.

This role required her to help patients that either had Covid or were recovering from Covid with their additional nutrition and hydration needs and Nicky pitched in to help wherever needed on the ward.

“The increased requirements and needs of patients during and recovering from COVID-19 has been very visible and much of my time has been spent trying to ensure these patients maximise nutrition and regain strength during recovery.

“The length of time everything takes due to PPE and isolation of patients has increased. But I now have new skills including hospital bed making, giving bed baths and even shaving gentleman!”

Sometimes Nicky found herself talking to patients who felt very lonely and isolated while there were no visitors allowed in the hospitals. She offered them drinks and snacks – a job often supported by the volunteers.

Nicky adapted from a remote working role, where contact with district nurses, health visitors and diabetic nurses would mostly be by telephone, to being immersed into a tightly knit multidisciplinary team that worked in proximity on the wards. An eye-opening experience.

“Although I had some anxieties at first, I have found it very rewarding working in such a supportive team.

My role now on the ward has moved to more of a dietetic one as visitors are once more allowed and full-time staff are returning.”

Between time on wards, her other vital role, supporting patients who would normally see her in a GP surgery, still continued but in the form of telephone and virtual consultations.

“There have been challenges as older people with limited internet skills find it difficult to access online resources and set up virtual appointments, so we are still conducting many telephone consultations.”

“But there have been many benefits, including less travel for patients and difficulties parking.

“Speaking to families about diet in their own environment makes it easier to talk to parents while the children play.”

“Virtual clinics and group sessions are a way forward to help patients make contact with us and also to save much time in travel.”

“Having worked more closely in the community hospitals I also would advise greater dietetic input for those vulnerable patients that are often malnourished and greater links with catering in community hospitals to ensure we are able to give patients what is needed.”

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Published: 13 October 2020