Service for patients on trolleys leaves a bad taste
Patients who are spending hours on trolleys in emergency departments have complained they are not being fed properly, the hospital safety watchdog has revealed.
The poor meal service for the patients, who should be in a bed in a ward, is among the top five complaints about hospital food made to the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
The Irish Independent has learned that Hiqa inspectors have begun investigations into hospital kitchens and wards for the first time, putting the standards of food and nutritional care under surveillance.
Major grievances brought to its attention by patients include lack of assistance to help vulnerable people who may have trouble eating. Others have highlighted how they are not getting enough fluids.
Mary Dunnion, Hiqa's Director of Regulation, said that the first series of unannounced inspections of hospitals to review the quality of food and patient nutrition have been underway for the past two weeks.
The watchdog is investigating 13 adult acute hospitals and will publish its findings.
She said: "Hiqa began a review of the arrangements in place in the acute hospitals to ensure that patients receive adequate nutrition and hydration. This review focuses on the adult acute hospital services.
"We are undertaking this programme because we recognise that malnutrition and dehydration can compromise quality of life for patients, affect their recovery, and cause unnecessary illness and death.
"In designing this review, Hiqa worked with a team of expert advisors drawn from a diverse range of interested and informed parties, including patient representatives, healthcare professionals and service providers."
She pointed out the programme of unannounced inspections assesses nutrition and hydration care as observed by the inspection team and experienced by patients on a particular day.
"During an inspection Hiqa teams visit hospital wards at meal times to see first-hand if patients receive a good quality meal service, a choice of food, regular fluids, and that they are helped with eating and drinking when necessary.
"In particular they focus on observing the day-to-day delivery of services and on patients' experiences, arrangements at mealtimes, and nutrition risk screening and assessment."
Inspection teams speak to patients and their families as well hospital staff members.
At the end of this review, Hiqa will publish a national overview report.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish Independent: "One of my goals is to improve the standard of hospital food. Progress has been slower than I hoped but some hospitals have grasped the nettle and are bringing about real improvements.
"I want to commend their efforts and I look forward to seeing all hospitals taking similar initiatives. I'll be getting a further update at my next meeting with hospital managers."
The HSE said it will spend €54m on hospital food this year, which is in line with other years.
A spokesman said: "The HSE continues to build up on its hospital food programme by working in partnership with The Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism and are currently working with them on drafting a national clinical guideline for under-nutrition in Acute Hospital settings.
"A national Advisory Group on Nutrition and Hydration has been established by the quality improvement division under the chairmanship of Professor John Reynolds."