Put the voice of patients first

We are the leading charity promoting the voice of patients and recently carried out research for the first time into the patient foodservice experience. It was funded by Compass UK and Ireland, and the result is the Patients First Report, which carries some important findings for foodservice providers, hospitals and healthcare commissioners. Hospital food is never out of the headlines for long, and it is often the focus of many negative stories. However, despite the widespread interest in the issue, patient
Steve Cenci
19/04/2017 - 07:03
Finding out what patients truly think about the food they are served in hospital is what all healthcare caterers want to achieve. Katherine Murphy, chief executive of The Patients Association, talks about some new research that could help.

We are the leading charity promoting the voice of patients and recently carried out research for the first time into the patient foodservice experience.

It was funded by Compass UK and Ireland, and the result is the Patients First Report, which carries some important findings for foodservice providers, hospitals and healthcare commissioners.

Hospital food is never out of the headlines for long, and it is often the focus of many negative stories. However, despite the widespread interest in the issue, patients’ views are very rarely heard.

It has been well documented how important the provision of high-quality food is to the recovery of hospital patients. On many occasions, strong leadership and foresight from the top has led to good foodservice, despite the extremely tight budget. However, we are still too often seeing the need to improve.

Malnutrition is a real and worrying issue within the health service. As a result, this year, we have commissioned a public inquiry into malnutrition in hospitals.

There is no nutrition in an uneaten meal, which is why it’s so important to put patients first and provide a meal that people actually want to eat. But this can be hugely challenging due to the circumstances patients find themselves in – often at their most vulnerable, in pain and in an unfamiliar environment where it is very difficult to speak up.

The aim of this survey was to conduct face-to-face interviews with patients in hospital wards to gain useful insight into their requirements and views, providing a large sample and a good qualitative understanding.

By establishing patients’ preferences and priorities, and linking this to their satisfaction with what is currently offered, we aimed to give guidance to the providers of food and meal services to develop and improve their offer.

To ensure a good cross section of the patient population, 780 patients in six acute hospitals were interviewed, covering a wide geographical spread.

The sample was structured to provide a broadly representative mix of patients by age and gender, and to include people from different ethnic backgrounds and people with special needs.

It was agreed that interviewing would be carried out by independent volunteers, with a combination of Patients Association ambassadors and/or NHS Trust volunteers to be identified in each of the chosen hospitals.

It is worth noting, there are many positives to be taken from the report. On average, patients scored their meals and drinks between 7.3 and 7.4 out of 10.0, firmly placing existing hospital food at the higher end of the patient satisfaction scale.

In a similar vein, staff service was rated highly by patients, with 34% giving staff a 10.0 rating and an average score of 8.5. Scores such as these underline that, in some places, hospital foodservice is generally to a good standard and matches the expectations of patients.

The report found patients put the taste of the food (20%), the choice (15%) and the temperature of the food (15%) as their top priorities. Interestingly, local sourcing or provenance was not an issue patients rated as important when it came to their meal choice, with only 2% of patients rating this as important to them.

However, there were areas highlighted for improvement around the duty of hospitals and their foodservice providers to ensure each patient has the food and drink resources at all times.

Some 16% of patients were found not always to have drinking water in reach, while 26% of patients who missed a meal were not offered alternative food.

While these figures are relatively low, it is still shocking to hear such stories are continuing, and shows there is still room for a greater focus on patient service, especially the simple act of ensuring water is always available and that people have assistance to enable them to eat if they need this.

From the extensive findings of the report, we developed a number of recommendations that offer practical guidance for food providers, food servers and hospitals generally to help improve the current offer. Providers should

work to satisfy the top three patient priorities for meal experience – taste, choice and temperature

develop menus and ensure correct provision of meals for patients with special dietary requirements, patients from minority ethnic backgrounds and patients with a longer stay in hospital

foster strong relationships between staff serving food and clinical staff to gain full understanding and satisfaction of individual patient needs

ensure all patients are given assistance to eat if needed, are provided with nutritional advice and constant access to hydration, and nutritional necessities such as water and three meals a day.

Despite the pressures, which we know our hospitals are under, I believe these recommendations about the basics of care are achievable.

Additionally, we are also engaging with commissioners, hospitals and regulators to ensure they are also doing their part to improve patient experience.

For the first time, the patient’s voice has been heard, and I really hope that the decision-makers not only listen to what patients have to say but also take positive steps to make a difference.

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