Improving the quality of food and nutrition in our aged care homes was a major recommendation of the Aged Care Royal Commission, which found 68% of residents were malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.
In response, the federal government established a $13 million food unit as part of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
The unit will manage a dedicated phone hotline that residents, family members, staff, and the public can ring with questions, concerns, and complaints about food, nutrition, and dining.
Callers will have access to experts, including dietitians.
The hotline, 1800 844 044, will operate from 9am to 5pm AEST, Monday to Friday.
It will also be available to aged care providers so they can access food and nutrition advice, support, and education about food, nutrition, and dining experiences for people in their care.
The Commission says that in responding to the hotline calls, its complaints team will “assess clinical risk [and] quality of life and seek information on contemporary best practice guidelines”.
“We look forward to working with the sector to improve the food and dining experience of older Australians receiving aged care,” it said in a media statement.
“As all of us know, good food, nutrition, and dining in aged care is a key contributor to individual wellbeing and quality of life.”
Free online training modules will also be available, hosted by the Maggie Beer Foundation.
The Commission has published a report outlining the key findings of an analysis of food and dining experience surveys conducted by the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN).
OPAN interviewed 365 people in residential aged care across Australia in 2021 and 2022.
Most residents (87.4%) interviewed viewed food to be important to them and more than half (58.1%) said they enjoyed cooking.
Some said they enjoyed participating in cooking activities while others said that they missed the opportunity to prepare meals for themselves or others.
Residents were also asked about the foods and snacks they missed. Many said that they preferred food that was familiar and “homelike”, consisting of fresh, high-quality ingredients such as seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Some said that they enjoyed being able to access takeaway meals on occasion because it brought them a sense of pleasure, familiarity, and a link to their past.
Many spoke of the pleasure they continued to derive from eating meals with their family and friends in a social setting.
They described meals or occasions that continued to make them happy where they lived now, such as:
A Sunday roast.
Happy hour (the opportunity to share a drink with others).
An onsite barbecue.