Tomorrow's doctors must become more competent in nutrition

Says BMA Nutrition Lead in his address at the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) 2007 National Conference (Hilton London Metropole Hotel, April 26 - 27)

Says BMA Nutrition Lead in his address at the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) 2007 National Conference (Hilton London Metropole Hotel, April 26 - 27)

In the dual roles of being both a registered medical doctor as well as a registered nutritionist, Dr Sumantra Ray, a Clinical Research & Teaching Fellow at the University of Dundee is addressing delegates at the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) 2007 National Conference on the subject of "Nutrition - A Doctor's Perspective". In his presentation he examines the Council of Europe recommendations for hospital nutrition and also why catering should be considered a clinical service. He also highlights the need for a multi-disciplinary approach and the need for all disciplines to take greater responsibility for patient feeding.

Dr Ray says that many of today's doctors are ill equipped to advise their patients on diet and calls on "tomorrow's doctors" to gain competencies in both clinical and public health nutrition. Although the nutritional basis and management of disease are well-established in medicine and doctors regarded as the most trusted source of advice and information, they often lack, in Dr Ray's opinion, fundamental nutritional knowledge to advise their patients on diet.

Welcoming Dr Ray's address, Alison McCree, National Chairman of the Hospital Caterers Association says: "Normal food has always been and will continue to be the cheapest form of medicine and its therapeutic role within the healing process should never be under-estimated. It is absolutely essential that the medical profession recognises this fact and that food and nutrition have a higher status within the mainstream doctor training courses. Doctors need to play an integral role with other members of the clinical, dietetic and catering teams in maintaining the nutritional status of patients and consequently, their well being and recovery rate".

Dr Ray emphasises the important role that doctors should play in nutritional aspects of care and how nutrition is vital to good medical treatment and health promotion. Diet, he points out, is an important modifiable risk factor for many diseases including heart disease and cancer which account for high rates of morbidity and mortality.

Despite the essential role doctors can play in ensuring a patient's nutritional status is recognised, only a limited number of medical undergraduates are able to choose the appropriate nutrition courses available for elective study at universities. However, he also advises that doctors will, in future, come under increasing pressure to be more nutritionally informed.

In 1994, the Department of Health set out the "Eighteen Bullet Points in Nutrition - Key facts that all doctors should be able to use in their practice" whilst the Council of Europe Alliance on Hospital Food/Nutrition which also comprises of the Hospital Caterers Association, British Dietetic Association, the National Patient Safety Agency and the Royal College of Nursing, is currently defining revised roles and responsibilities for doctors in nutritional care, in consultation with the British Medical Association.

The Alliance is launching its "10 Key Characteristics of Good Nutritional Care in Hospitals" at this year's HCA Conference. These set out clear and comprehensive principles that all hospitals should put into practice to not only ensure nutritional status is patient centred, from admission to discharge but also to help reduce the still unacceptably high levels of malnutrition amongst patients, particularly the elderly.

Dr Ray also points out that the General Medical Council requires doctors to understand the role played by diet and to take an active role in partnership with dietitians, nutritionists, speech and language therapists nurses, carers, patients and their families.

He also argues that although there are numerous courses on nutrition available through undergraduate and postgraduate medical curricula, these are not integral to the main medical training qualifications but are voluntary courses that medical students must choose to take as an additional option.

Dr Ray says: "Worldwide, in the 21st Century, nutrition contributes to key millennium development goals, some left over from the 20th Century. Obesity and cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer increasingly afflict young and old in both high and low income countries. I believe that effective nutritional management will become possible by doctors but this is dependent upon the development of rewarding career pathways in clinical and public health nutrition for doctors with well defined roles and responsibilities so that medical graduates are incorporated into a competent nutrition workforce.".

The Hospital Caterers Association National Conference opens at 9.45 a.m. today (Thursday 26 April) with an Opening Address by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath OBE, Minister of State for Quality. This is followed at 10.45 a.m. by Rob Smith, Director of Gateway Reviews and Director of Estates and Facilities, Department of Health who will be outlining the Future of Estates and Facilities in the NHS. Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, South London is speaking on the subject of Meeting Patient Expectations at 2.30 p.m.. Dr Ray's presentation ‘Nutrition - A Doctor's Perspective" is scheduled for 10.15 a.m. on Friday 27 April.

Contact: Hazel Green, National Press Officer, HCA Tel: 020 8464 6378 Email:

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