New policy aims to improve hospital food

Patients to be assessed and assigned menus
  • Deborah Condon

A new policy, which aims to improve the quality and safety of food and nutritional care in hospitals, has been launched.

Around 10,500 patients are fed in acute hospitals every day and hospital food is a key part of their recovery, affecting both clinical outcomes and overall hospital experience.

The new Food, Nutrition and Hydration Policy aims to improve this experience by providing a minimum nutrition standard for all hospitals. All staff involved in the provision of food and nutrition care will be given a toolkit, which will ensure that patients are properly assessed, fed and monitored.

Staff involved include chefs, catering staff, dietitians, doctors, nurses, speech therapists and occupational therapists.

"On admission to hospital, patients will be screened to assess if they are nutritionally well or nutritionally at risk from conditions such as malnutrition, diabetes, allergies, swallowing issues, or perhaps they may need assistance with feeding or aids for eating and drinking.

"Once their needs are assessed, they will be assigned an appropriate hospital menu, or will be referred to a dietitian for a nutritional care plan and assistance if necessary. The patient will then be screened weekly to ensure their needs continue to be met," explained project lead and renal dietitian, Barbara Gillman.

Other initiatives in hospitals nationwide include:
-‘Making mealtimes matter', which aims to minimise unnecessary disruptions at mealtimes
-Colour coded menus and serving trays, which highlight a patient's specific nutritional needs
-Replacement meals if a patient misses a meal for some reason
-Education and training for all relevant staff.

The policy also highlights the risk of malnutrition, a serious condition that occurs when a person's diet does not contain enough nutrients to meet the demands of their body. Eating and maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult for people experiencing conditions such as cancer, Crohn's disease or advanced dementia.

"One in every four patients admitted to hospitals is malnourished. Malnutrition is directly related to increased length of stay and complications for patients. It adversely affects every system in the body and increases mortality risk at all ages and across care settings.

"By undertaking screening on admission and by making mealtimes matter, hospital staff are promoting and maintaining an environment that is conductive to people enjoying their meals and having appropriate assistance to safely consume optimal amounts of their foods and drinks," explained the HSE national dietetic advisor, Margaret O'Neill.

The policy, which was developed by the HSE, will apply to all adult patients in acute hospitals including inpatients, Emergency Departments, and day procedure units.

"This policy is an excellent example of collaborative working and I would like to thank all those involved and to encourage catering and health professionals in all acute hospitals to embrace its recommendations and put them into practice. By doing this, they will help patients attain and sustain good health during their hospital stay," commented the Minister for Health, Simon Harris.

 


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