Nurse develops 'micro-straw' to stop patients from becoming dehydrated in hospitals

Project aims to tackle dehydration among the elderly and vulnerable

A community nurse is developing an innovative device to prevent elderly or vulnerable patients from becoming dehydrated while they receive care in hospitals.

Naomi Campbell, a Hydration Lead at Peninsula Community Health in Cornwall received a £15,000 grant from NHS Innovations Southwest to continue developing a ‘micro-straw’, a device that would help elderly patients sip fluids independently, reducing their reliance on nursing staff when they are thirsty.

Ms Campbell said the drinking aid will be simple enough to be used in hospitals, care facilities, or even at home. “The straw is designed to be used in any container to enable very frail people to sip small amounts independently, with minimal effort," she explained. "It’s a very simple concept.”

Ms Campbell said she began research into tackling dehydration through her project 18 months ago. “This [dehydration] is a long term problem and despite best efforts by nurses sometimes it’s very difficult to encourage or persuade someone elderly to drink", she said. "As we get older, we don’t feel naturally as thirsty and also people are very concerned about having to get to the bathroom.”

Ms Campbell is now working to develop a prototype of the drinking straw that would be suitable for any cup or mug, alongside working on a separate prototype of a special cup to measure the patient’s fluid intake in milliliters.

Alongside this, a simple risk assessment tool designed by Ms Campbell that uses a traffic light system of red, amber and green placemats to indicate whether the patient can eat or drink independently, and the level of assistance they require is being used in a trial at Falmouth Hospital for two weeks, before it is trailed at 13 other community hospitals in Cornwall.

"We have started a very simple trial asking staff to use the risk assessment tool," Ms Campbell said. "The colours indicate different things and act as a visual prompt telling the patient they will expect to receive that level of care."

She added: “Whilst I’m sure the drinking aid will have patient benefit, I realise that the main focus needs to be on education and finding better ways of supporting staff. At the moment there isn’t anything available for front line care staff to systematically identify how much help patients need. It’s looking at working towards developing that.”

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