Australia’s peak body for nutrition professionals is calling for the mandatory adoption of national guidelines for home delivered meals for older Australians in the wake of Covid-19.

Sharon Lawrence

Dietitians Australia says in a recently published submission to the age care royal commission that covid brought to light many short fallings in the way the nutritional needs of older people living in the community are catered for.

The submission says access to basic food supplies was limited for many older people during the pandemic as a result of government imposed restrictions, panic buying and a reluctance by many to go online to get their food delivered.

Volunteers available to deliver services like Meals on Wheels were limited and emergency food relief was poorly co-ordinated and communicated.

Home support services and visits from family and friends were reduced, increasing the risk that poor eating was going unchecked, and access to PPE, as well as training on its use, was limited for dieticians doing home visits.

Nutrition ‘overlooked’ during pandemic

Sharon Lawrence, an accredited practicing dietitian who presented on behalf of Dietitians Australia during an Aged Care Royal Commission hearing into food and nutrition in 2019, says it’s appalling that it took a pandemic to highlight the fractured nutritional care and support of older people in the community.

“During the height of Covid-19, the nutrition needs of older people living in the community was broadly overlooked,” she told Community Care Review.

Covid-19 highlighted there is no national framework to support and address the nutrition needs of older Australians nor is there a framework to support those who are providing nutrition care.

“Covid-19 highlighted there is no national framework to support and address the nutrition needs of older Australians nor is there a framework to support those who are providing nutrition care.

“It highlighted the adhoc nature of emergency responses to support the nutrition needs of vulnerable older people.”

Ms Lawrence says because of the lack of national guidelines for service providers, caterers and health professionals, the quality of home delivered and centre based food is at best  inconsistent and at worst sub-standard.

“There are certainly some meal providers who are making every effort to ensure their meals are consistent with the guidelines and the unique nutrition needs of older people, however in some circumstances this has come at a cost to the consumer,” she says.

It’s essential that APD’s are involved in developing a framework and training volunteers and staff, she says.

She would also like to see the government develop broader dietary guidelines for older Australians which would underpin standards for both home delivered meals and emergency responses.

DA is also calling on the government to establish a public awareness campaign for vulnerable older Australians to access emergency food relief, and for oral and enteral nutrition feeds to be included in the plan.

Telehealth set to end

Mr Lawrence says its imperative that older Australians in the community can continue to access dietician services in their homes via telehealth.

Access to telehealth Medicare-subsidised allied health appointments has been extended to March 2021 and health minister Greg Hunt announced late last year that telehealth would become a permanent feature.

However, further details about what health services will be accessible via telehealth, and under what conditions, are yet to come.

“Medicare supported telehealth has been one of the benefits of COVID-19,” Ms Lawrence says.

“Medicare supported telehealth is essential for the health and wellbeing of older people living in the community,” she said.

“Telehealth minimises the risk associated with infections and illnesses and improves access for older people who experience social isolation.

“It also increases access for older people living in regional, rural and remote communities where dietetic services may not exist.”

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