by Helen Davidson (@HelenDietitian)
Catering Dietitian, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
When I qualified as a dietitian 30 years ago my career path was simple: work a few years in an acute setting and then become a community dietitian. I saw myself visiting people at home, seeing them in GP clinics and carrying out health promotion tasks. I got my first role as that said community dietitian, as per my plan, in North Staffordshire in 1993. My role was covering several community hospitals where patients were rehabilitating as well as some GP clinics.
It was there in Stoke on Trent and subsequently in Nottingham where I realised that as well as supporting individuals to meet their nutritional needs I could have influence over the entire, albeit relatively small, hospital population by influencing the catering provision.
I became a catering dietitian.
Dietitians “of a certain age” will remember catering placements as an integral part of our training- in school meal kitchens and in industry. I spent a few weeks doing school meals in Forrester High School in Edinburgh followed by another few weeks in the HQ of Scottish Gas, also in Edinburgh, preparing and serving meals for the staff. I never thought for one minute that one day I would be instrumental in designing and providing catering services for patients in hospital.
Having worked as catering lead dietitian in Nottingham and then in London I moved back to my roots in Scotland and came to work in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde for a six month project to nutritionally analyse menus in one hospital. That was 15 years ago.
My role today has developed into one which supports our board’s catering strategy and this is seen as an integral part of our nutritional care provision. I am employed by the catering department rather than a dietetic department and am very much part of the team here.
As the only dietitian in the team I bring a unique set of skills to the table. It is fortunate and timely that the BDA is focusing on Evidence and Expertise for Dietitians Week 2017 as this is exactly what I use to bring dietetic leadership to our team.
Day to day my duties include supporting the catering team to develop recipes, advising on nutritional content of menus, designing menus to meet patient needs as well as developing training programmes for catering staff and my knowledge of food/food science and the link to nutrition comes into its own.
Like all dietitians I look for evidence and best practice to support the work that I do. The use of resources such as Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition (PEN), the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics and information from bodies such as Food Standards Scotland support my decision making processes.
I am often a “go to” person when a patient or member of the public comes to us and asks specific questions about our food provision. For example recently I have answered queries about the use of organic food in the treatment of cancer as well as the nutritional differences between farmed and fresh salmon. I am a trusted member of the team to reply to such queries because of the knowledge and skills I have as a dietitian.
As a leader in my field I am lucky (or maybe just pushy) enough to be involved in a number of national work streams relating to food provision in hospitals; including work on a catering strategy for NHS Scotland, Audit of Food in Hospitals (NHS Scotland’s national catering and nutrition specification) and a National menu harmonisation project to name but a few.
These groups mainly consist of catering colleagues and I often find I am one of a few or even often the lone dietitian at the table. My catering colleagues are mostly interested in the economic, practical and operational aspects of providing a food service to patients. My role is to advise on the hows and whys of feeding our patients food which meets their nutritional needs. Dietitians are able to support catering colleagues to join the dots between what they do and the patients whole nutritional care journey.
I do worry about the future though.
How do we ensure that future generations of dietitians want to and can work closely with our catering colleagues? Those placements I mentioned at the beginning of this blog don’t happen anymore.
Dietitians are ideally placed within hospitals to work closely with our caterers. We have the knowledge of our patients’ nutritional needs and should be helping in the design of menus and recipes. How can we expect caterers to have the same knowledge about the nutritional needs of patient groups as us?
Where will future generations of caterers get their advice about the nutritional needs of hospital patients if not from dietitians?
That’s another story and maybe another blog….I’m off to do some taste tests for our new recipes.