Food high in sugar, salt and fat will not be limited for most hospital patients

Plan is against restrictions on junk food as priority is to ensure patients get enough energy

 Research  shows patients are at an increased risk of developing malnutrition the longer they stay in hospital due to dissatisfaction with the food, fasting periods, exposure to infection and loss of body mass. Photograph: Getty Images

Research shows patients are at an increased risk of developing malnutrition the longer they stay in hospital due to dissatisfaction with the food, fasting periods, exposure to infection and loss of body mass. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Food high in sugar, salt, and fat will not be limited for most patients under a new approach to the provision of hospital food across the health service to be launched on Wednesday.

The plan comes out against restrictions on junk food for most hospital patients because their appetite may be reduced and the priority is to ensure they consume enough energy.

“Foods that are high in fat and sugar can provide an important source of energy, and therefore make a useful contribution to ensuring that nutritional requirements are achieved,” the policy states.

“The provision of higher energy and/or healthier choices should be tailored to the needs of the patient population, length of stay and degree of acute illness/injury.”

The regular diet proposed in the policy, to be launched by Minister for Health Simon Harris, includes three meals and two snacks a day. It recommends fruit and vegetables five times a day and meat or fish twice for patients without special health requirements.

The HSE Food, Nutrition and Hydration Policy for Adult Patients in Acute Hospitals also contains proposals to reduce food waste – only half of hospital food is eaten by the patient, one-quarter is left on the plate and one-quarter is not served. Average hospital food waste amounts to 0.73kg per patient per day.

Patients have given hospital food rave reviews in the first ever reports into the quality of nutrition in the Irish health system. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Food providers will be encouraged to supply plant-based protein food sources such as pulses and lentils “where possible and appropriate”. File photograph: Alan Betson

“Whilst many of the Irish population now regularly choose to eat a vegetarian dish, requests for vegan diets in Irish hospitals are still relatively low,” the policy states. Such diets need to be carefully planned.

Food providers will be encouraged to supply plant-based protein food sources such as pulses and lentils “where possible and appropriate”.

The policy will apply to all staff involved in the provision and delivery of food, fluids and nutritional care for patients, both clinical and non-clinical.

Body mass

The development of the new policy was spurred on by research that shows patients are at an increased risk of developing malnutrition the longer they stay in hospital due to dissatisfaction with the food, fasting periods, exposure to infection and loss of body mass.

The annual cost associated with such malnutrition among adults is estimated at more than €1.4 billion, or 10 per cent of the health budget.

Food providers are advised to supply “high-quality food that is nutritious, looks appealing and tastes good” in an environment that is “conducive to eating”.

“Hospital food service times are often inflexible and designed to meet the needs of staff rather than those of the patients. This can often result in meals which are served very close together and not provided evenly over the waking hours.”