Numerous studies have linked a wide range of nutrients to slowing the impact of age on various systems in the body. Optimally of course, these nutrients should be taken and absorbed by the body throughout life so as to better prepare it for the aging process.
Health Minister Ivan Lewis yesterday announced the first ever Nutrition Action Plan - a list of steps towards meeting the nutritional needs of older people in hospitals and care homes.
"Today's action plan is unprecedented and makes it clear that nutrition is about dignity but also central to older people's good health and ability to recover from illness," said Lewis.
The action plan outlines priorities for health and social care organizations:
-to raise awareness of malnutrition and the link between nutrition and good health; -to ensure accessible and relevant guidance for the sector, as well as training;
-to encourage nutritional screening for all people using health and social care services; -to strengthen inspection and regulation of these measures.
A shortfall in providing adequate nutrition has affected virtually all public institutions doling out meals to either patients, residents, workers, inmates, or students.
"Too often older people and their relatives tell us of experiences in hospitals and care homes where the food is poor or no help is provided to help people eat and drink properly," said Lewis. "Weight loss is sometimes wrongly explained away as being due to illness when in reality it is because of a failure to put nutrition at the heart of peoples care. "
The policy initiative is bringing together support and commitment from 25 stakeholders in the field.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has indicated the new measures will be taken into consideration for training student nurses, beginning in September 2008.
Tougher regulation and inspection will be addressed though the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) and the Healthcare Commission of the Department of Health to ensure standards of nutrition and dignity become central to quality inspections.
"This neglect and poor practice cannot be tolerated; every hospital and care home should be in no doubt that they have a responsibility to ensure that older people have a choice of good food and were necessary are assisted to eat and drink properly," said Lewis.