14 Mar 2014
Major concerns have recently been raised about the quality of food available in hospitals and the way in which elderly and vulnerable patients are fed. But a number of initiatives, including Nutrition and Hydration Week which starts today, aim to improve levels of nutrition, both in hospitals and across the social care sectors.
According to Age UK, 1.3 million people over 65 suffer from malnutrition. More than half all older people admitted to hospital are malnourished on arrival and approximately 65% are suffering from malnutrition by the time they leave. In total, the costs of malnutrition in the UK for older people are thought to exceed £7.3 billion a year.
Nutrition and Hydration Week, which runs from 17 to 23 March, is a collaboration between the Hospital Caterers Association, the National Association of Care Catering and Patient Safety First. The week aims to “create a global movement that will reinforce and focus energy, activity and engagement on nutrition and hydration as an important part of quality care, experience and safety improvement in health and social care settings.”
It aims to share good practice and promote awareness through resources, webinars and case studies, and features events on the theme, including a Worldwide Afternoon Tea, which will be held by health and social care providers to demonstrate their commitment to good hydration and nutrition.
The elderly at risk
The initiative comes at a time of general concern around levels of nutrition in the health and social care sectors. Reports from 2011 found that 45% of English hospitals were failing to provide good nutrition to the elderly. At Sandwell General Hospital in the West Midlands, for example, inspectors found serious issues with nutrition, especially for patients who needed assistance to eat. It was found that most patients “had not received a thorough nutritional assessment and for those who had been identified as being at risk, care, goal and action planning was inadequate.”
In response to reports like these, new guidance was launched last year to improve patient nutrition, developed by the British Association for Perenteral and Enteral Nutrition and the Malnutrition Task Force. In addition, new hospital food standards are also set to come into effect this summer. The Hospital Food Standard Panel will produce these new food guidelines. Chair of Age UK Dianne Jeffrey will be involved, as will Anne Donelan, chairman of the BDA Food Counts Specialist Group.
“During my four decades as a dietitian, working in a wide variety of roles and settings, I have witnessed the importance patients and their families place in food and beverages and the key role they have in enhancing patient wellbeing and recovery,” says Donelan.
“Many hospitals serve excellent food, but it doesn’t happen everywhere. There is a growing need to address the variation in quality of hospital food and beverage services quality so as to improve standards for every patient.”
A complex picture
But there are a number of different factors at play in the provision of good nutrition in the healthcare sector. “We should not underestimate the complexity involved in delivering good nutritional care across hospital systems given the number of processes, healthcare professionals and departments involved,” says Dr Mike Stroud, chair of the British Association for Perenteral and Enteral Nutrition’s quality group and co-chair of the Malnutrition Task Force.
One issue that was clear at Sandwell General was making sure nurses and other care staff have the time and skills to make sure patients are eating properly. But another big concern is the availability of affordable nutritious food.
One strategy to add variety and increase the nutritional content of meals is the 14:14 campaign, which aims to encourage NHS Trusts across England to cultivate kitchen gardens to grow fresh produce which can be served to patients, staff and visitors. Each hospital is encouraged to cultivate up to 14 square metres of land.
“Across England we are seeing more and more trusts turning to local suppliers to provide their produce,” says the <Ahref="http://www.nhssustainabilityday.co.uk/" target="_blank">NHS Sustainability Day website, which promotes the campaign. “It is crucial we start to reduce the environmental impact of food production. We believe 14:14 can kick-start a revolution in how NHS organisations perceive food procurement.”
Just as the provision of decent, nutritious meals in schools is emerging as a major social issue, so food in the hospital and social care sector continues to grow as an area of interest among policy makers, nutritionists and professionals in the food and drink industry.
With the number of people aged 65 or over projected to rise by nearly 50% over 20 years, the Nourishing an Ageing Population session at Food Matters Live will address the challenges, opportunities and priorities to improve nutrition for elderly people.