Feeding tubes at end of life should be last resort, researchers say

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There is no real benefit to using feeding tubes to care for those approaching the end of life. They should be considered only as a last possible option, according to a report from the Royal College of Physicians published Wednesday.

Tube feeding “doesn't prolong their life, it doesn't reduce complications, it doesn't improve their quality of life,” Dr. Rodney Burnham, co-chair of the RCP working party, told the BBC World Service.

The multi-disciplinary working party of RCP researchers, together with the British Society of Gastroenterology, issued their report in response to a lack of consensus among doctors on the appropriateness of feeding tubes. Researchers recommended that feeding tubes be a last resort; hand feeding, modified if necessary, should be the primary method of feeding. Patients deemed to have an “unsafe swallow” should be evaluated with a risk management approach, according to researchers. Decisions about feeding tube use should be made with a clear clinical goal, and never for the convenience of staff, they conclude.

More information is available online at www.rcplondon.ac.uk.