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University of of Winchester innovative hospital mealtime volunteer scheme wins national award

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Staff at the University of Winchester (@_UoW) have been honoured with an award from the British Dietetic Association (BDA) for developing a new practice based learning approach which supports early exposure to hospital wards for student dietitians.  

The Mealtime Assistant Volunteer Placement  ­- created by Dr Emma Parsons, Senior Lecturer/Programme lead in Nutrition and Dietetics and Irantzu Arregui-Fresneda, Lecturer and Year 1 module lead for dietetic practice education  – received the Dame Barbara Clayton Award for innovation. 

The scheme started in 2021 and more than 70 students have taken part so far. This is the first of five placements for student dietitians provided by Winchester; the only University in the UK offering such a placement for student dietitians.  

The placement allows students to begin clinical training in a hospital setting within their first semester.  

Working closely with the volunteering team at the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, dietetic students go on to wards as mealtime assistant volunteers to develop their communication and professionalism skills. 

The placement involves two shifts per week from early November until March. 

The student volunteers’ work involves preparing patients and their environment for meals, supporting them with completing the meal ordering system and assisting patients with food and drink at mealtimes. Students are encouraged to develop their communication skills by providing support to staff and patient companionship around mealtimes. 

As part of the preparation for placement, students also receive a tour of the hospital kitchen alongside training in dementia care, Making Every Contact Count and use of thickened fluids for patients with swallowing difficulties.

Emma said it was vital that students were given experience of the ward environment early in their course and that the placement ran over a long enough period for them to build up rapport with the staff and patients.  

In addition to providing experience for students the programme provided the hospital with extra eyes, ears, and hands at mealtimes, some of the busiest periods on any ward. 

“It allows the ward staff to flag up the people who need more help at mealtimes and allows staff to focus on other duties.” said Emma. 

She added: “Receiving the Dame Barbara Clayton Award was an absolute honour. Developing this placement has allowed research into the benefits of mealtime assistants on patient and ward experience to be applied in a consistent and sustainable way.”  

“It has required a collaborative approach with the Trust’s volunteering services, ward staff and our students to ensure it meets everyone’s needs. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to all stakeholders for their ongoing support with this innovative practice-based learning.” 

Irantzu said she was delighted that the award had come at a time when final year students, the first cohort to take part, were still at the university and could see the value of this innovative placement scheme and their work as mealtime volunteers recognised. 

The CEO of the British Dietetic Association, Liz Stockley, visited Winchester to present the award to Emma and Irantzu. 

At the ceremony students spoke about the confidence the new programme had given them ahead of their more in-depth practice-based learning. 

Liz said:

“Hearing first hand from the volunteer coordinators and the students taking part, gave me a real understanding of just how important this practice-based learning has been for everyone involved, but especially the patients that have been supported at mealtimes.” 

The award was also shortlisted in the ‘Creative Provision of Placements’ category at the 2023 Chief Allied Health Professions Officer (CAHPO) Awards. 

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