We sat down with Sue Cawthray, National Chair of the National Association of Care Caterers (NACC) to discuss how the industry has responded to the challenges created pandemic and the longer term impact that lockdown and operational limitations are having on the provision of food to the elderly and vulnerable in care settings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had such a devastating impact upon the foodservice industry overall, what have you seen as the key issues faced across the care sector?

Food shortages and delivery issues, particularly at the very start of the pandemic, meant that care caterers had to adapt menus in line with products available, ensuring they continued to deliver the nutrients required by residents and Meals on Wheels customers.

On top of the busy role care caterers deliver daily, they had to put additional, and changing, health and safety measures in place and ensure everyone had the right information and training to continue to operate as safely as possible.

As well as the practical pressures teams faced, the escalating isolation that residents and Meals on Wheels customers suddenly had to deal was a cause for concern. With care homes in lockdown with no
visitors and social eating no longer viable, and many elderly and vulnerable in the community more isolated than ever and unable to leave their homes, there was a real risk that isolation and loneliness could have a negative impact on their appetite, potentially leading to increased malnutrition.

What are the longer-term issues you see the care industry facing as a result of the pandemic?

Malnutrition among older people has been one of the main challenges of the pandemic. For so many vulnerable people, getting to the supermarket, picking up the right foods and cooking a hot meal can be a challenging, daunting and in many cases an impossible task – particularly amidst a worldwide pandemic.

The NACC is a long-standing champion of the fantastic Meals on Wheels service and campaigns continuously to raise awareness of the valuable role it serves in the community. Unfortunately, due to ongoing funding cuts during austerity, the reality is for so many older people, Meals on Wheels services aren’t always available and as a result, many people are
suffering from malnutrition which often leads to a range of new, avoidable health issues.

In a bid to raise awareness of the exponential rise in malnutrition amongst vulnerable adults, a letter from the UK Malnutrition Awareness and Prevention Network (a network that the NACC is a partner of) was sent to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP to force the government to take action to ensure that all population groups receive the support they need to eat well and stay alive.

On a more positive note, it has been amazing to see stories of care establishments working hard to keep residents and customers safe and there have been plenty of heroes that have emerged over the period.

The response of our members and the sector to the pandemic has been incredible. Care caterers have adapted and worked really hard, and often very long hours, to ensure their residents and customers get the good nutrition and hydration they need. This is no surprise as our sector is full of inspirational and brilliant people – they are all heroes.

For more than 30 years, the NACC has been committed to raising standards of care catering and championing the positive impact nutrition, hydration and mealtimes have on the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of the elderly and vulnerable in care settings. The NACC believes that everyone has a right to receive good food and drink that reflects their individual nutritional, cultural, physical and emotional needs. Through its inclusive programme of regional and national events, training, campaigning, research and guidance documents it provides valuable support, information and advice to care caterers to help them achieve this. It also offers a valuable platform for like-minded professionals to connect, learn and share ideas and best practice.

Speaking of heroes, we love the brand new ‘Triumph Over Adversity’ category that has been added to the NACC Annual Awards for 2020, why was it important to include this new category?

The awards are very important as they give us a wonderful opportunity to pause and recognise excellence, dedication and innovation in our sector and to celebrate the valuable contribution care caterers make to society.

For 2020, given the extraordinary challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has presented, the awards are all the more pertinent. Care caterers up and down the country have more than stepped up to the challenges the pandemic has presented. We could not let the selfless dedication,
compassion and ingenuity of these frontline workers go unrecognised. The Triumph Over Adversity Award is an exceptional award for exceptional times and our way of saying thank you to all our colleagues for their outstanding response to this period of national crisis.

We’re very, very proud of the care catering sector and we can’t wait to celebrate with our peers later on this year. And, we very much hope that we’ll be able to do this in person!

Find out more and get involved at www.thenacc.co.uk