One third of aged care residents don’t always have a choice of food and only a quarter thought their meals were always tasty, a recent survey conducted by Flinders University has found.

The introduction of new consumer-driven Aged Care Quality and Safety standards in July 2019 should have driven “culture change” within aged care, says Flinders PhD candidate and accredited practising dietitian, Morgan Pankhurst.

But a 2019 survey of 400 residents from 20 aged care homes in South Australia suggest that change may not have eventuated.

The survey asked residents about their perceptions of the facility’s food services in light of the new standards.

Just two-thirds of surveyed aged care residents said they always had a choice of food, and only a quarter said they found their meals tasty.

Around two-thirds of residents felt that they always had adequate choice (66.4%) and variety (44.2%), but only around a quarter felt their meals were tasty (25.1%) or appetising (28.4%).

Only a handful (2.6%) had flexibility around the timing of meals. 

Less than half (48.8%) thought their feedback or suggestions would always be listened to.

Given these results, many of the aged care homes where residents were surveyed would not have met the new standards, the research suggests.

Like so many aspects of the new aged care standards, the guidance on food is vague. 

Aged care homes must provide “safe and effective services and supports for daily living that optimise the consumer’s independence, health, well-being and quality of life,” they state. Food falls under the broad banner of “services and supports”. 

Many aged care providers need to do better

Ms Pankhurst said aged care providers need to do more work with residents to understand their preferences and expectations.

“It highlights for us as researchers the need to work with homes to help them figure out how they can improve their food systems and what they’re offering to residents,” she said in a statement.

“It’s not necessarily about spending more money ,” Ms Pankurst added.

The survey highlights some “key areas for improvement” within food services in aged care, Ms Pankhurst said.

Food on the menu for royal commission

Mr Pankhurst said she hopes the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will provide “insights” into how aged care providers can improve their food services.

Food is certainly on the royal commission’s agenda, with counsels assisting noting in their final submission that the standards “lack any specific reference” to the provision of “nutritionally and culturally appropriate food”.

The Interim Report said food was one of the most complained-about issues in the submissions they received, with around 25 per cent of submissions about nutrition and malnourishment. 

The royal commission’s investigations found “deadful food [and] nutrition” led to “widespread malnutrition”, “excruciating dental and other pain”, as well as other serious health concerns. 

While the new standards still have some way to go in delivering true improvements in the quality of some aged care services in Australia, let’s hope the royal commission’s recommendations can build on those reforms and generate even more meaningful change.

Ms Pankhurst will be presenting on this topic at the AAG 2020 conference which will be held from 18–20 November.


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