Food labelling to improve to reduce choking risk for people with swallowing problems

Patient Judy Heard talking to speech and language therapist Shannon Sim about thickened fluids at ES

Patient Judy Heard talking to speech and language therapist Shannon Sim about thickened fluids at ESNEFT. Picture: East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) - Credit: Archant

Labelling on foods at two hospitals is to be changed to be clearer so that people with swallowing problems will be at a lower risk of choking.

East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) is to bring in standardised terminology at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, as well as its community health services, from mid-October.

At the moment ambiguous and sometimes confusing words such as ‘soft’, ‘syrup’ and ‘sloppy’ are used.

But it will now be replaced with scientifically-developed terminology.

Kate Harrall, a principal speech and language therapist at ESNEFT, said: “The new terminology will improve safety for people who are struggling to swallow by making sure labels and measurements are precise and consistent.

“Swallowing problems can occur at any stage of life, and can follow a serious incident such as a stroke or come as part of a life-limiting disease.

“Making sure these patients receive the right food and drink to meet their nutritional needs can have a big impact on their overall health, which is why this project is so important.”

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The changes at ESNEFT will first be introduced for thickened fluids, and will benefit patients with conditions such as motor neurone disease or Parkinson’s.

The new classifications for food will follow before March, in line with national guidance.

The work comes as part of a project called the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI).

It is being made possible at ESNEFT thanks to close working by speech and language therapists, dietitians and nursing staff at both Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, and colleagues who work in the community.

The aim is to reduce choking risks and, as the new criteria is being introduced internationally, it will also ensure patients will be given the same consistency of food or drink, regardless of where they are receiving care.

Ms Harrall added: “Patients who use modified food or thickened fluids at home and are no longer under the care of ESNEFT’s speech and language therapy team should contact their GP if they have any concerns about the new guidance.”

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