Lynne Douglas: Hospitals must deliver balanced meals

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We all know that a good diet and physical activity are the key to a healthy lifestyle, but in NHS Lothian we know that food is much more than that. We know that for our patients a nutritious meal and plenty of fluids are essential to ensure an effective recovery and promote long-term good health.

The link between good nutrition and health are well established and we have considered this as part of our catering review. In Scotland, 63 per cent of the population are obese and over 30 per cent of patients coming into hospital are at risk of under-nutrition. We currently serve 9000 meals per day and have to provide nutritionally balanced food for all of our patients.

That is why we are committed to providing meals for hospital inpatients that will make them stronger, boost spirits and help send them home on the road to recovery.

Therefore we have launched a consultation to gather the views of current, former and future patients to get their feedback and thoughts on how we can change and improve the service we offer.

When patients are in hospital they are obviously not feeling at their best and they may not feel like eating. But this is precisely the time when good food, from meals and snacks, is crucial.

We need to ensure that meals contain the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit to help the body heal. But we also need to make sure that it sounds appetising on a menu, looks appealing on the plate and that it tastes great.

Patients can currently make various choices and combinations from our menus and this is particularly relevant in specialist wards where we know people are often limited in the food they can eat.

We are proposing that our wards also have to be more flexible to ensure that when patients do feel like eating they can have a meal and not be restricted to the normal breakfast, lunch and dinner routines.

Lifestyles have changed so much since the traditional mealtime routines were introduced and now people may want to eat in a different way. Patients may want to eat lighter meals more frequently or fancy a snack in the afternoon and these are the things we need to change.

Staff from across the departments, including nurses, porters and clinical support workers, will also receive training to help them understand how they can help each patient maintain a good diet and fluid balance.

Just helping a patient sit comfortably and helping to prepare their surroundings for mealtimes can make a real difference and we want to ensure that staff all understand the important role food and fluids have in the lives of our inpatients.

Lynne Douglas is allied health professions director at NHS Lothian