In the final part of our look at healthcare, National Association of Care Catering chair Sue Ullmann talks to Emily Manson ahead of next week's annual conference.
What will be your major theme this year at the conference?
Nutrition at the heart of care, because we feel that nutrition is an integral part of care and there has never been much focus on nutrition within the care catering sector. It's the ideal opportunity to really focus on nutrition being at the heart of the care catering sector.
How has the recession affected your side of the industry?
On the one hand, it's an expanding sector, with the increase of the elderly population, so it's in direct contrast to the rest of the economy. But we are all having to deal with the increases in food and energy costs, so we're having to watch budgets even more and shop around for the best deals to ensure that quality isn't compromised.
Do you think care catering is improving or deteriorating?
It's improving, but only slowly, as key stakeholders realise the importance of nutrition and hydration. It's not about healthy eating but eating for health.
What are the major hurdles?
The fundamental problem is the lack of mandatory training for people working in the sector. There are NVQ levels for people working within the care sector but there's no mandatory training within the food and catering sector, so there's no requirement to achieve any level of nutrition, whether you're the carer or caterer.
Thousands are still facing malnutrition, why is it so hard to improve care home catering?
There is a lot of good training available but people will only do it if they can afford it, or if they are made to do it, which is why it's so important for the Government to get behind this and establish mandatory training - it's required for everything else from health and safety to food hygiene, but not nutrition. It doesn't make sense.
How has the National Action Plan benefitted the sector since its introduction in 2007?
It has brought the key stakeholders round the table to discuss all the big issues for the very first time and that's a good thing, but we must now know where it's going. What happens now? We've had the discussions and the interim report and are still waiting for the final report. The Government needs to follow through and build on all this work.
What needs to happen now, then?
So much work has been done it's now a matter of pushing it through to see tangible results but this is not something we can do alone. It comes down to Government pushing it through as a priority - and money. There's so much evidence of what malnutrition in care homes is costing the country and it's only going to get worse, so the Government really needs to do something about this. We've given them all the suggestions and options, they just need to act on it.
You can't expect people to deliver a good-quality service if you don't train people to do it - particularly with so many foreign workers in the sector. How can we expect them to deliver a plate of meat and two veg if they've not experienced it themselves or been trained to do it.
We're also currently working on the National Association of Care Catering's response to the green paper, and there's some really good joined-up thinking in it, such as the plan to link health and housing services. But how is this going to happen? Who is going to lead the programme? These questions have to be answered.
What's your primary goal for the future?
Keep working at it, don't lose my sense of humour, don't give up and continue to pressure the Government to act in raising the importance of nutrition and training the workforce. You've got to stay optimistic and keep fighting - that's the key, otherwise you might as well give up now and say all the people in our care have no future.
The generations are changing, what may be accepted now by the elderly won't be accepted by the next generation, they have different expectations and we need to think about creating services to meet those. This isn't going to go away, demand is only going to increase, so Government doing nothing really isn't an option.
View the other two articles in our healthcare focus: