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Stomach tubes used 'inappropriately'

6th January 2010

Some dying patients are being given stomach tubes for feeding when it is inappropriate, according to the Royal College of Physicians.

The RCP has issued new guidelines saying every effort should be made to maintain eating and drinking by mouth for a patient.

Concerns have been raised over the use of stomach tubes because of the growing problems of feeding difficulties on hospital wards and care homes.

But the insertion of a stomach feeding tube has been described as an invasive procedure by doctors' leaders, which carried a significant risk of infection and even death.

Figures from 2007 showed that 39,000 people in the UK were being fed in this way outside of a hospital environment, with a third of them in nursing homes.

A report, published jointly by the RCP and the British Society of Gastroenterology, comes amid continuing unease among doctors and other staff about feeding problems.

One of the report authors, Dr Rodney Burnham, said while tube feeding may be appropriate in some circumstances, consent is necessary and it must be medically appropriate.

He added: "Oral feeding should be the main aim, because it provides comfort and pleasure to patients, and improves their quality of life."

Feeding tubes, he said, should not be used for staff convenience or fear of litigation.

However, the English Community Care Association said it did not believe the use of feeding tubes was a widespread practice.

The Department of Health said the use of intrusive interventions, such as tube feeding, was a clinical decision and should only be used when necessary.

 

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