As Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announces new standards setting out what patients should expect from NHS hospital food, moves are being made to raise the quality of nutrition in all other care settings in the community, writes Christine Grey.

The new NHS hospital food standards cover the quality of food, nutritional content and choice for patients and will be checked by new inspections led by patients. Pilot inspections across the country have already looked at aspects of food that are important to patients, and they also cover cleanliness, privacy and dignity, together with the state of the hospital environment in general.

Meanwhile, BAPEN has been mapping out the work that needs to be done to develop an integrated nutritional care strategy, which aims to ensure that good nutritional care is high profile and successful in the whole community.

In June this year, BAPEN launched its new document Managing Adult Malnutrition in the Community, the first comprehensive guide aimed at all health and care professionals to ensure quality of care for people at risk of malnutrition by supporting professional decision making, encouraging the early detection of malnutrition through effective screening, and facilitating appropriate nutritional care.

The BAPEN Toolkit for Providers and Commissioners has also been updated to help new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) identify the nutrition services their local populations need.

Honorary Secretary Dr Ailsa Brotherton said: “Developing highly reliable systems of integrated nutritional care has become a priority focus for BAPEN and we are continuing to develop a wide range of resources that will help NHS and Social Care organisations to deliver improved care.”

BAPEN has recently presented the “chief health professions officer’s award for leadership” to a Food First project, which addresses the root causes of malnutrition in care home settings. The project includes an award scheme for care homes that encourages regular malnutrition screening and supports residents to eat real food rather than oral supplements.

Led by two registered dieticians, Cathy Forbes and Leanne Fishwick, based at Bedfordshire primary care trust (PCT) — now part of South Essex partnership trust (SEPT) — the project team spans both health and social care by working with care home staff, community nurses, GPs and hospital doctors to develop resources and training to meet the needs of patients and staff.

The project, which was set up in 2009, was grounded in evidence from BAPEN’s nutrition screening weeks in 2007 and 2008, which found that 30–42% of residents admitted to a care home in the last three months were at risk of malnutrition. It also took into account results from audits which showed that not all care homes had a screening protocol in place, with many failing to follow BAPEN guidance on the frequency of screening, MUST documentation and best practice.

Social care staff were trained to identify people at risk, draw up individual nutritional care plans for residents and even change a person’s diet; 95% of care homes in the project reported that their practice had changed since working with the team.

The programme has now been extended to three PCT areas and 95% of care homes in these areas have improved the nutritional standards of their food. Similar schemes are running in other areas of England, including Darlington, County Durham and Leicester.

Meanwhile, the British Dietetic Association has launched its own awareness campaign, Mind the Hunger Gap, aimed at health and social care professionals.

Information on the Food First project is available on the BAPEN website.

Last reviewed 19 October 2012