Volunteers at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital have been swapping their desks for dinner trays to help create a mealtime community on the wards and encourage patients to enjoy their food.
The Meal Mates scheme was introduced in August 2011, prompted by staff concerns at the national reports suggesting that patients in some UK hospitals were going without food and drink because nursing staff were too busy to look after them.
Although no allegations had been made against ward staff at the QEH, staff were concerned that on some wards, those with older patients including some with dementia, that nurses were unable to give patients the time and support needed during mealtimes.
Louise Mitchell, Tilney ward manager, said: “Our new system means that when the bell rings, everyone stops what they are doing for mealtimes. The doctors have to leave the ward and the meal coordinator, a role taken on by someone different each day, organisers the delivery of meals to patients.
“Most of our patients are elderly and some of them do need extra help with their meals or just a little company as they eat. We have a blue tray system to give extra support to some patients who are unable or unwilling to feed themselves, or who just need encouragement to eat.”
Lunches last around 30 minutes on the wards and regular volunteer, Rev Mark Jones, hospital chaplain, can see the values of stopping all other activity on the wards during this time.
He said: “I think eating alone is actually quite difficult and five minutes of chat can make all the difference to enjoying a meal. The food here has won awards, but no matter how good it tastes, if the patient’s state of mind and health is affected, they may not be able to enjoy it without support.
“Less so on the cardiac ward, but with dementia patients, just seeing their food on the plate can be a challenge so general support can make all the difference.”
Janet Garner, 64, a patient, said: “I can’t fault the food at all. The staff are marvellous, from the cleaners to the managers, and they always stop to have a chat.
“That’s what’s lacking in other hospitals these days, people are too busy to chat, but here they talk to us and to each other which is important.
“When we have our meals it does feel intimate, like a community. The food is presented well, both on the plate and by the staff who hand it out. We’re never rushed and I couldn’t be in a better place.”
Jean Hill, 69, a patient, said: “It’s really, really nice here. The nurses are wonderful and I’ve been here for so long now that they treat me like one of the family.
“I’ve been very poorly and sometimes I haven’t felt like eating, but the staff have encouraged me to try and the other patients help make you want to eat again.
“You get very close to everyone on the ward and I wouldn’t want to be on a bigger ward now, they take such good care of me here.”
Richard Humphries, hospital spokesman, said: “Many of our office staff say it is important for them to come out of their offices and help with patients at mealtimes in order to feel like they are contributing something to the hospital and the patient’s wellbeing.”
Staff from all areas of the hospital are being asked to become meal mates and give up 30 minutes of their time to assist with ward staff at breakfast, lunch or dinnertime. Volunteers will receive full training from experienced nurses.
Anyone who would like to volunteer should contact volunteer coordinator Fran Monson on 01553 613205, or email firstname.lastname@example.org