A friend at meal times

WE'RE here to help: Quality assurance co-ordinator Louise Parkin at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust which is setting up a mealtime companion scheme
WE'RE here to help: Quality assurance co-ordinator Louise Parkin at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust which is setting up a mealtime companion scheme

HEALTH chiefs have come up with a plan to help hospital patients to eat well while they are staying on the wards.

A new group of volunteers has been set up at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and the process of finding the team of caring helpers is well under way.

The aim of the caring new project is that the team will help people to eat well during their hospital stay. The workers will be known as mealtime companions.

Experts say the need for the workers comes as a result of more elderly people, and more patients with dementia, being referred to the hospital wards within the Trust.

The mealtime companions will be supporting the staff on the wards by encouraging patients to eat and drink in a calm and sociable atmosphere.

They will also be helping to cut up the food for the patients and make mealtimes a more enjoyable and social experience.

Associate director of nursing, quality and patient experience Barbara Carr explained more about the project, and said the search was already under way to find the people who would become the companions.

She said: “We are very excited to start recruiting mealtime companions on the wards. We are seeing an increase in the number of elderly patients and patients with dementia and we know that those patients often need a little extra help, particularly at mealtimes.

“The idea came about after the hospitals were very busy and we asked for non-clinical staff to volunteer to help the ward staff at mealtimes to encourage patients to eat and assist them with eating their meals.

“We found that the support was fantastic for the ward staff. It improved the patient experience and the staff who had volunteered could see that their contribution was making a real difference to patient care.”

The project should make a huge difference to people, said Barbara.

She added: “Having someone to sit and chat to can make eating a much more pleasurable, social experience for patients, especially those who may be reluctant to eat or who take a long time to finish a meal

“Mealtime companions will be supported at all times by a member of staff and they will receive specific training from the nursing, catering, dietetics and speech and language therapy teams to help with communication skills and nutritional knowledge.

“All volunteers play a vital part in helping to support our hospitals and improving patient care.”

and we really appreciate everything they do.”