Innovation leads to accessible food

Mon 21 August 2017

A woman serving a hospital meal to an elderly man in a wheelchair

Whether trying to eat a snack or prepare a meal for one, many people have trouble opening food packaging. For people with mobility disability, such as arthritis or MS, it can be even more frustrating.

AND member, HealthShare New South Wales’ (NSW), Food Packing Project aims to make the single serve food portions given to hospital patients as easy as possible to open. In 2014, HealthShare NSW’s Food Packing Project received the Peak Award Innovation at the NSW Health Awards and a high commendation in the 2016 Save Food Packaging Awards.

An elderly woman in a hospital bed holding a packaged biscuit, smiling

Bronwyn Scott, Disability Employment Leader, and Zdenka Fuller, Business Support Manager, shared information about the project as part of their submission to the Australian Network on Disability’s 2016 Access and Inclusion Index.

“NSW Health uses pre-packaged foods, for patients' meals. If people can’t open the food, they may not eat, because a relative might not be with them or staff may be unavailable,” said Zdenka.

“We want to make it as easy and dignified as possible for people, and worked with Arthritis Australia, Nestle and The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) to develop an accessibility rating. It works on a scale of +8 to -8, and estimates the percentage of consumers who can safely open the packaging,” Zdenka added.

To ensure the initiative is as far reaching as possible, the rating is included in supplier contracts. It is leading towards creating a national standard for accessible packaging and is mandatory in over half of public hospitals in Australia.

“When a manufacturer wants to supply to us they must meet our accessibility rating and to do that, they may need to update their packaging,” said Bronwyn. “It has been a positive experience for manufacturers with many reporting increased customer satisfaction with their products. In addition, industries – such as airlines and hotels – are now also benefitting from the initiative.”

Bronwyn Scott

[Pictured: Bronwyn Scott]

After completing the Access and Inclusion Index, the findings showed that HealthShare scored well in the Innovation key area, and HealthShare intends to use the Index as a tool to set a benchmark for improvement in the future.

“We want to know where we stand in terms of access and inclusion. The Index is a useful way of identifying where the gaps are, so we can improve our performance in the future. It really guides your focus and gives you leverage to drive change,” said Bronwyn.

The organisation also found the Index useful to document achievements and highlight areas that had been considered but not yet actioned.

“The Index gave me a framework in which to document achievements and highlight things that we said we’d do but hadn’t managed to action. For example, we committed to including information about adjustments to the recruitment process in all our job advertisements. Since actioning this, we have had an increase in calls from people with disability interested to apply,” said Bronwyn.

When asked if they would participate in the Index again, Bronwyn said, “Completing the Index was hard work, but I thought it was well worth it. You can’t tell if you are successful if you don’t measure it.”

HealthShare NSW is a statewide organisation established to provide high-quality shared services to support the delivery of patient care within the NSW Health system.

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