Diagnosed with microcephaly in infancy, a condition which causes babies to be born with a smaller head than usual, bubbly 31-year-old Katy has grown up with complex needs and has been receiving support at ECL Harlow since 2015. One of the complications she experiences is difficulty swallowing or dysphagia, which means she has always followed a clinician-approved diet to try and minimise her risk of choking. Despite this, in December 2019 Katy had a severe incident at home which was incredibly distressing for both her and her mum.
After informing the team at ECL, Katy was immediately referred to the NHS for review and her case was also passed on to ECL’s in-house Speech and Language Therapist (SALT), Jenny. Aware of the urgency of the situation, Jenny acted swiftly to co-ordinate an initial assessment meeting with an NHS SALT, during which they observed Katy eating different foods. The session highlighted potential issues with her current feeding plan and resulted in difficult but necessary changes to the mealtime recommendations in order to keep Katy safe. As she also attended a day centre run by a different service provider, it was important to ensure that a holistic plan was put in place which could be implemented across all settings, so two further group sessions were arranged by ECL SALT to bring everyone up to speed and guarantee consistency.
ECL SALT provided person centred education and clinical advice for Katy’s mum and Katy’s key support staff during these sessions. This was dynamic in that it took place during Katy’s usual session at ECL and was unique to Katy’s situation, making sure everyone supporting Katy fully understood the risks associated with feeding and the requirement to strictly follow the Speech and Language Therapist’s Dysphagia mealtime guidance. The on-site cooks were also briefed, with clear advice around how to prepare meals in line with the new feeding plan, while the Day Services staff set about introducing a series of practical measures to further reduce the risk of future choking incidents.
Team members tasked with supporting Katy during mealtimes were offered additional help, receiving training around optimal positioning to allow for more eye contact, and the use of gentle touch and verbal prompts to help her remain calm and focused. This helped ensure Katy could achieve maximum mealtime enjoyment. In a bid to replicate the experience of eating at home, ECL even purchased the same non-breakable cutlery used by her mum.
Danielle Forrester, Service Manager at ECL Harlow says, “It has been very reassuring to have the professional support of ECL SALT Jenny. She has been able to guide us to ensure that Katy’s meals are prepared according to her dysphagia plan and given us valuable tips on how to safely support her. Katy is very content with her mealtimes; we have peace of mind that we are supporting Katy in the best possible way and are more confident that she is receiving consistent care wherever she is.”
*Name has been changed.