National Community Meals Week, which will celebrate the decades-old meals on wheels service this November, will give everyone the chance to get involved, says Elly Earls
Over recent years, the number of community meals served across the UK has dropped dramatically, according to NACC market intelligence.
Whereas 10 years ago, 40 million community meals were delivered to the elderly each year, that figure now stands at only 20 million, largely because of social care funding cuts.
But National Community Meals Week (NCMW) is back this November and bigger than it has ever been before. This is not only to reassure elderly people that the service does still exist and how to access it, but also to demonstrate to the country's decision-makers just how valuable it really is.
More than meals
According to NACC chair Neel Radia, the decades-old service, where meals can either be delivered directly to elderly people's doors by 'meals on wheels' drivers or at luncheon clubs and day centres, plays a much larger role than the simple delivery of a nutritious, subsidised dinner.
"It's about beating loneliness and promoting how important food is, and how having a meal around a table goes a long way for someone who doesn't have that opportunity on a daily basis," he says. "Moreover, if we can keep services like community meals maintained, we can also look at saving a lot of money for the NHS, which we already know is on a tight budget."
This is because the service, which also includes wellbeing checks, acts as a preventative. It reduces the number of hospital admissions for malnutrition and dehydration, as well as the number of elderly people admitted to care homes, something that, thanks to the UK's ageing population, is only set to increase.
In fact, malnutrition is already putting significant financial strain on the NHS, with malnutrition in the elderly costing the UK £7.3b every year, according to nutrition charity BAPEN, and this is something the NACC has proven could be significantly reduced by sustaining the community meals service.
Indeed, according to Hospital Episode Statistics, hospital admissions through malnutrition increased by 90% when community meals on wheels provisions decreased over a five-year period (2003-2008), while another study undertaken by care home food supplier Apetito (The Real Value of Community Meals on Wheels report) found that the UK could save £1.7b by keeping 10% of the UK's over 65s at home for longer.
"If there was more support given to older people, we could actually help them stay at home longer and prevent them from being malnourished as much as possible, reducing the additional strain on the NHS," Radia says.
The National Road Relay
So what is the NACC doing this year to get their message across? From 10-14 November, the National Road Relay will bring together the association, its regional members, organisations, businesses and community representatives, as well as the local media and the public, to transport a meal across the country.
"We've encouraged everyone to use as many different modes of transportation as possible to raise the profile of NCMW and celebrate how important meals on wheels are," Radia says.
The meal will be transported by vehicles covering all the UK's regions, being delivered in lorries as well as being rowed across the "Hospital admissions through malnutrition increased by 90% when community meals on wheels provisions decreased over a five-year period"
Thames in Putney and flown into Scotland on an RAF Typhoon. Along the way, organisations and individuals, including hospital trusts, manor houses and even one steam train, will be hosting pop-up luncheon clubs and tea parties to further celebrate and raise awareness of the service and how much it has improved over the past 60 years.
What you can do
It's not too late to get involved. Radia says: "It doesn't matter which sector you're in, this is something in the community that affects us all in one way or the other. So even if you can only spend one or two hours helping out, please contact us. We'd love to link you to the activities happening across the country.
"If we all work together, we can get our message heard - that if we can prevent malnutrition and dehydration in the community, we'll not only save money, we'll afford many individuals a chance to live independently and with dignity for longer."
Follow the @NACCCaterCare action on Twitter using #communitymeals or go to www.thenacc.co.uk/events/community_meals_wheels_week to find out more