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New technology enhances catering service at WSFT

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) was a finalist in the 2018 HEFMA awards in the new Efficiency & Improvement category for the development and introduction of a new App. 


The catering team has introduced the App to help patients to make better, informed meal selections and enhance their experience whilst in hospital.


Working in collaboration with SKR Services, which already provides some services to the Trust,  an innovative picture-based system was developed to help patients choose their meals. 


The App provides a picture menu - with photos of actual meals served - to help patients select their meal, along with nutritional and dietary information. 


Patients can download the App onto their own smartphone and the Trust is hoping to introduce tablets to wards so staff can access the information quickly and easily. It is being used by speech and language therapists to help patients who have speech difficulties, allowing them to indicate their meal selection by pointing to the photos instead. It is also being used for dysphagia meals that may differ visually from the patient's perception of what that particular dish should look like.


The App not only improves the service to patients, it also helps increase efficiency on the ward. With the App, independent patients are able to browse the menu to gain a clear idea of the choices available to them and even make their selection, which means clinical staff don’t have to. 


Its development was a true collaboration between SKR Services and the Trust, and it involved many disciplines - the catering team, speech and language therapists, dieticians and the IT department, and was completed in just four months. SKR Services hosts all the menu information on a website. 


The App also facilitates an online survey that allows patients to give quick and easy feedback, which helps the Trust learn and improve patient experience. For Brod Pooley, Catering Manager, this means the Trust receives meaningful, prompt feedback about the meals served instantly.


The implementation of the App did not require any financial outlay from the Trust, with the only expenditure being the time spent by staff in providing the information to populate the menus and take the photographs. 


For the patient, the App enhances their overall experience whilst they are in hospital. It provides reassurance that the Trust cares enough to go beyond providing basic menu sheets and is prepared to invest time into improving the patient experience. Hospital food can sometimes be criticised, but with the development of this App, the catering team at WSFT is demonstrating that it offers good quality, healthy food and provides that all-important good first impression of the service it supplies.


The App is increasingly being used as a communication tool to promote and advertise this comprehensive service. For instance, afternoon teas are being introduced in the restaurant for patients who are able to leave the ward and enjoy some time with friends and family in a retail environment. 


"The motivation behind developing this App was to help our patients by giving them as much information as we can," confirms Brod Pooley. "We have patients who aren’t confident readers, those for whom English isn’t their first language, and some who might not be familiar with the types of food we offer on our menus. We already had a printed picture menu available, but this innovative idea is another way of helping the patients, giving them more information and heightening their enjoyment of food."