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Supporting speech and language therapists

26th November 2020

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Submitted by Joseph Rejek, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

Without the support of our Speech & Language Therapists (SLT), it would be impossible to safely deliver volunteer support at mealtimes to the many wards here at Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NNUH).

Our Mealtime Assistance project looks to volunteers for hands-on support at mealtimes for elderly patients or those who need some additional help with feeding. This higher-risk activity is reliant on the experience and support of our SLT team who take time out of their busy days to provide volunteers with practical, high-quality training followed by ongoing support.

Mealtimes on our wards are often the most stressful times of day for staff who can get particularly stretched helping patients with feeding. For this reason, volunteer support is particularly welcomed. Volunteers can support by preparing patients for meals by providing hand wipes and clearing side tables. They can also help with the distribution of meals and, following training with the SLT team, the feeding of patients. Not only does this help to alleviate the strain on ward staff, it can mean patients are given more time and attention to enjoy their meal fully.

Not only is this project reliant on the SLT team for training, it is also influenced by their fantastic ongoing relationships with ward staff. By working closely with both ward teams and the volunteers, SLTs efficiently assess volunteer capability and facilitate the incorporation of volunteers to mealtime procedures.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, during which all of our volunteers had to stand down, the SLTs worked with the Voluntary Services team to consider how to continue recruiting and supporting Mealtime Assistance volunteers virtually or in a socially-distanced capacity. They have further agreed to adapt the project to enable the reintroduction of Mealtime Assistance volunteers; by prioritising patients in a way to enable each volunteer to support just one patient per session, reducing the risk of spreading infection.

The SLTs are at the centre of this growing project, and their enduring enthusiasm for volunteer involvement has made it ten-times easier to develop and deliver safely.

The pre-existing Mealtimes Assistance project began further development in January 2020, following the introduction of a new Volunteer Coordinator at Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NNUH). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Speech & Language Therapists (SLT) delivered bespoke training to seven new volunteers, doubling previous capacity.

In the first few months of the year before volunteers were stood down, our Mealtime Assistance volunteers helped to serve over 200 meals to patients, safely feeding over 30 patients (the equivalent of over 20 additional meals eaten).

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