"Spoilt by insenstive application of Protected Meal..."

About: Queen Elizabeth Hospital (Birmingham)

What I liked

My partner's immediate problem was diagnosed efficiently and attended to, for which we are both very grateful. The new private rooms often available are a major upstep in dignity and comfort for patients, and, for the first time in an NHS hopsital, my partner is able to enjoy quiet at night. Most of the staff are pleasant and helpful. The new cafes and restaurants are a big improvement.

What could be improved

It has clearly now been decided that Protected Meal Times are a universally 'Good Thing'. I am not sure what research findings there are on this. I understand that patients were often not eating before because of disruptions for procedures to be carried out - blood tests etc. However, this has been extended to ejecting all visitors from rooms. Has it not occurred to anyone that this is NOT always a Good Thing? Many visitors are close relatives who can help and encourage patients to eat. I have done this many times with my own partner when he is in a fragile state. Moreover, it can be a matter of human dignity and respect for human rights to allow visitors to remain. Yesterday an auxilliary nurse attempted to eject me from a room when my partner had already asked me to stay and to resist instructions to leave. He simply finds it easier and more comfortable to eat in a normal enviornment where we can be a couple together - sitting together whilst eating is something couples normally do. To force someone to eat alone when they don't want to makes it feel as though patients are being punished for being ill; that they are prisoners in cells. This incident did not take place in a shared room. My partner was the only person there, so the argument that other patients might be upset does not apply.

Has there been any study which looks into the effects on the eating of patients on the PMT regime when they are denied any visitors in their rooms? Please note I am NOT asking about improvements in numbers of meals consumed because patients can no longer have medical procedures at lunch times, I am asking specifically about visitors, and more specifically whether anyone can show that patients eat better when a partner, or someone else very close to them, is banned from the room?

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Response from Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback on your experience at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (part of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust).

We welcome all feedback and would like to assure you that all comments are taken seriously and acted upon as part of our ongoing commitment to improving patient experience.

We are very pleased to hear that some aspects of your experience were so positive. Senior management colleagues have been made aware of your comments and will ensure that they are passed on to the relevant staff members. It is a real morale boost for staff to receive feedback like this from patients and their families.

We are however very sorry to hear about your experience in relation to protected mealtimes. This is certainly not the type of experience we aim to provide. Your comments have been fed back to a number of senior members of staff involved in protected mealtimes who acknowledge the comments and greatly value your feedback. They have provided some information which you will hopefully find useful:

Protected meal times are there to benefit our patients so that they can focus on enjoying their meal without distraction. Staff should be flexible in their approach so that patients who would benefit from having someone there to assist and encourage at mealtimes will be welcomed on the ward as long as the patient is happy for them to be there and they are not disruptive to others.

It is clear from your comments that this was not your experience and we are sorry for the distress this has caused to you and your partner.

I would like to reassure you that we are very committed to ensuring good nutrition for all patients and are working hard to improve the social aspect of mealtimes. The Dignity in Care team, the Nutrition Steering Group and the Catering team are working on a number of initiatives designed to enhance all aspects of mealtimes We also encourage staff to work closely alongside patients and their families to meet their individual needs.

If you would like further information or would like to discuss any of the points raised in more detail please contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service who will be pleased to assist you. You can contact them by phone 0121 371 3280, by email PALS@uhb.nhs.uk, via the hospital website http://www.uhb.nhs.uk/pals-contact.htm or in person by dropping in between 10am-4pm (Mon-Fri) to the PALS office located to the left of the Information desk inside the Main Entrance.

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