Hospital launches project to improve mealtimes for patients

 Doctors at Southampton General Hospital are the first in the UK to test whether or not volunteer mealtime assistants help patients stay well nourished on the wards.

The research, led by the nutrition, diet and lifestyle biomedical research unit and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), sees groups of four to five volunteers help at lunch and dinner on the wards supported by therapists, dietitians and research nurses.

The assistants encourage patients on the medicine for older people unit to eat and drink, help cut up their food and ensure they have the right cutlery available.

And, although joining as part of the voluntary services team at UHS, they receive specific training from the speech and language therapy and dietetics teams to help them with communication and nutritional skills.

Dr Helen Roberts, a consultant in geriatric medicine and the project lead, said: “To date, no-one has evaluated mealtime assistance in terms of feasibility of recruiting and retaining volunteers and whether it is an effective and efficient initiative in increasing the nutritional intake of older people.

“This is a very exciting and positive project which may well change the face of mealtimes in hospital for older people across the UK and we look forward to assessing the impact it has on our patients’ wellbeing.”

The study is one of a number of initiatives introduced at UHS over the last two years to improve standards at mealtimes, including the pilot of a clinical mealtime coordinator role.

The role, currently being rolled out across the Trust, sees a member of the nursing team wear a green tabard for an hour to signal they must not be disturbed and are on hand to help any patients with difficulties or who require additional support.

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Page comments

Fantastic initiative but real shame that this is dependent upon volunteers rather than paid NHS staff.

As a solicitor working in the Healthcare field, I am often approached by relatives that are concerned that staff do not have sufficient time to spend with them to ensure that their nutritional needs are catered for. I am well aware that resources are greatly stretched in the NHS currently and huge respect and thanks are due to these volunteers.
Anonymous (13/01/2012 22:11:03)
In my training days, helping patients to feed was always a part of the nursing role - it's a pity that nurses today are "too busy" or too "important" to perform this task but it is excellent that someone had the bright idea to remedy a gaping hole in the basic care all patients should receive.
Lyn Bonner (29/12/2011 10:56:59)
About time hospitals woke up to this problem of the elderly and handicapped getting nutrition.
Mrs W M Isaacson (23/12/2011 19:23:31)
Maybe the word "capacity" should be revised as we are more than capable to undertake such duties but unfortunately have insufficient staffing to allow for this.
Vicky Bristow (22/12/2011 17:31:41)
This is a fabulous idea and will be a great help to the individuals that require extra help- not just from a nutritional point of view but also from a social point of view too!!
Vicky Bristow (22/12/2011 17:24:45)
About time too. It is pretty logical that it is essential that eating will aid recovery and that nursing staff do not have the capacity to help patients to eat.
Marina Murphy (21/12/2011 18:25:08)

Mealtime assistants - photograph courtesy of the Daily Echo