Vulnerable patients with swallowing problems – a condition known as ‘dysphagia’ are set to benefit thanks to an improved method of screening their condition.
The new ‘swallow screen’, a swallowing assessment checklist and tool, has been developed and trialled by the team at Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital and is set to be introduced across the whole Trust.
For the vast majority of healthy adults, swallowing food and drink presents no problems, but for many patients who are unwell, this isn’t the case.
East Kent Hospitals’ Speech and Language Therapist, Brenna Fossey, said: “For many of our patients, being able to swallow is not an easy process – and this can be for a variety of reasons.
“These patients may have a swallowing problem caused by diseases such as dementia, stroke, head and neck cancer and other illnesses. Some of our patients are generally unwell and frail and experiencing temporary swallowing problems.
“All of these conditions can impact on the ability of a person to chew and swallow food – and this can have implications for patient wellbeing and safety.”
Brenna explained that if a patient can’t swallow safely, small amounts of food and drink can end up in the airway, which can cause a chest infection or choking. Both of which can be distressing and harmful for health.
“If food ends up in the lungs via the airway,” said Brenna, “bacteria can develop in a patient’s lungs and this can lead to pneumonia.”
And beyond the need to eat and drink for nutrition and hydration, there is also the emotional impact.
Brenna explained: “We care for some patients who may be approaching the end of their lives, and by helping them to eat and drink, we’re ensuring they are comfortable and able to maintain some quality of life.
For many patients, the swallow screen can reduce the time they spend in hospital by early identification and management of their swallowing problems. This can reduce chest infections which can complicate recovery.
Brenna said: “There are so many advantages to having an effective swallow screen. It quickly identifies patients with swallowing problems and facilitates referrals to speech and language therapy. This helps us to use our time effectively, with patients who really need our specialist skills.
“Once the swallow screen has formed part of a patient’s care plan, the information can be shared among health professionals and further enhance patient care.”
The swallow screen has been developed at the William Harvey Hospital over the past year and will be introduced at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital, Margate and the Kent & Canterbury Hospital soon.