HOSPITAL staff have become volunteers to help patients who need support eating and drinking.

Basildon Hospital patients, including those recovering from illness or injury and the elderly, will now have a helping hand at mealtimes after 14 offered their time to assist.

Good nutrition and hydration is vital in helping patients to recover from illness or injury, but many patients need additional support at mealtimes.

Volunteers, which include the hospital’s medical director Celia Skinner, help out by sitting with the patients during meals, while encouraging and assisting them to eat and drink.

It is also an ideal time to have a friendly chat, helping to make mealtimes more social and enjoyable.

Ms Skinner said: “I was keen to find a practical way to support staff and improve the experience of our patients.

“I had heard about the mealtime volunteer scheme, and thought it sounded like a good opportunity to do just that.

“Lunchtimes are often busy for me, so I will be regularly helping patients with their evening meal. Alongside ensuring the patient has eaten, the volunteer role is also about spending time talking and listening.

“Every patient has an interesting story to tell.”

Training taught volunteers what can affect patient appetite, understand the importance of different food consistencies, and know what to look out for that might indicate a patient is having difficulty eating or drinking.

Andrea Cartwright, consultant nurse responsible for nutrition support, said: “We must ensure we cater for all our patients’ nutritional needs.

Patients can have a reduced appetite due to their illness and many of our patients have special dietary requirements.

“Some need food in different textures, such as pureed or forkmashed, and some of our patients are fed through a tube.”

The hospital is looking to recruit more kind, caring volunteers who can offer a couple of hours a week. Anyone interested should e-mail joanne.fear or call Jo Fear 01268 524900 ext 1770.