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Better food service on wards is the key to improving patient's nutritional status

22 May 2007
Better food service on wards is the key to improving patient's nutritional status

With high numbers of patients still being reported as malnourished on admission to hospital, caterers must do more, says Neil Watson-Jones, chairman of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA).

The HCA is urging caterers to play a pivotal role in the future in ensuring that patients actually benefit from the food being delivered to hospital wards. Normal food has always been, and will continue to be, the cheapest form of medicine and its therapeutic role within the healing process should never be under-estimated.

It is absolutely essential that the medical profession recognises this fact and that food and nutrition have a higher status within the mainstream medical training courses.

With clear medical evidence supporting the fact that good nutrition aids patients' wellbeing and recovery, doctors need to play an integral role with other members of the clinical, dietetic and catering teams in maintaining and enhancing the nutritional status of patients wherever possible.

Improving standards is far more than just about the quality of the food on the plate, it is about enhancing a patient's whole mealtime experience. Good quality food is no good to anyone unless it actually gets into the mouths and stomachs of patients and that requires greater communication and collaboration between the dietetic, clinical and catering teams.

No matter how much effort is put into improving hospital cuisine, the nutritional value of an uneaten meal will always be zero.

We need a widespread policy of protected mealtimes in all NHS hospitals to ensure patients can eat their food without unnecessary clinical interruption and that patients receive help when they need it.

Ward housekeepers or ‘hostesses' should be deployed on every ward to work alongside nursing staff to ensure that food and nutritional care is central to the patient wellbeing.

The Council of Europe Alliance on Hospital Food and Nutrition whose stakeholders include amongst others the HCA, the British Dietetic Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians, the National Patient Safety Agency along with governmental representation from England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, launched its "10 Key Characteristics of Good Nutritional Care in Hospitals" at this year's HCA Conference.

These set out clear and comprehensive principles that all hospitals should put into practice to not only ensure nutritional status is individually patient centred, from admission to discharge but also to help reduce the still unacceptably high levels of malnutrition amongst patients, particularly the elderly.

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