Meeting growing demand: A review of a nutrition allied health assistant role in a cancer setting

Ms Belinda Steer1, Ms Carmen  Puskas1, Ms Melanie Fairweather1, Ms Jacqueline Black1, Ms Jenelle Loeliger1

1Peter Maccallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia

The Peter Mac Nutrition Department implemented a nutrition-focused Allied Health Assistant (AHA) role in 2010 primarily to improve inpatient malnutrition screening and referral to the dietitian. Since then, the role has expanded (without increasing EFT) to include screening and simple interventions in other clinical areas such as speech pathology. A review was completed in 2018 to evaluate this role.

A mixed-methods approach, including a survey of key stakeholders of the AHA service and a review of screening data was undertaken.

The survey (n=20) indicated that the most valued AHA tasks were inpatient malnutrition screening, day therapy simple interventions, and inpatient simple interventions. Most respondents (81%) indicated that the AHA completing simple interventions in day therapy was very useful, and 100% felt additional AHA time in day therapy would be very useful. Despite 68% of respondents indicating having the AHA in radiotherapy clinic was very useful, 32% indicated it was somewhat useful with these tasks not being as highly valued here compared to other clinical areas. Most respondents (84%) supported further expansion of the AHA role into speech pathology. Malnutrition screening data indicated the average monthly screening rate reduced from 74% in 2016 to 55% in 2017, well below the target of 80%. This was coupled with an increase by ~30% in the number of patients who required malnutrition screening in 2017.

This review indicates that malnutrition screening should remain a key focus for the AHA role, however other tasks are highly valued, especially in the day therapy setting. The scope of this AHA role needs refining to ensure that screening targets can be met, whilst other areas of high need are being serviced and optimal patient care is being achieved.


Belinda Steer is Head of the Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. She has over 15 years experience as a clinical dietitian, including over 10 years specialising in oncology nutrition. and has a passion for providing high quality, patient-centred care.

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