The IRL-led initiative in launching a national Meals On Wheels Network in September of last year is an attempt to respond to an important and long-standing need to strengthen and coordinate the efforts of the many organisations delivering a meals on wheels service to older and housebound people in the community around Ireland.
These services provide a range of benefits to those who use them, which goes far beyond the vital primary requirement of providing regular and nutritious meals to those who might otherwise struggle to obtain them. For many using these services the visit of the meals on wheels provider might be their only social contact during a day. Meals on wheels not only provides their meal, but also human contact and inclusion in the community.
The Meals On Wheels services around the country both enable older people to remain in their homes within the community and allow them to return there following periods of hospitalisation. Without the existence of the meals on wheels there would be a measurable impact on caring for older members of the community including:
- Higher mortality rates
- More and longer hospital stays
- Increased need for nursing home care following discharge
- Reduced likelihood of discharge from nursing home and increased need for nonelective hospital readmission
- Greater use of medications
- Lower levels of normal daily activity and
- Increased incidence of falls
The challenge to maintaining and developing these services nationally comes as a result of the disparate nature of groups providing them from place to place and from the heavy reliability on a large volunteer workforce.
In 2008 the National Council on Aging and Older People (NCAOP) produced a report titled The Role and Future Development of the Meals-on-Wheels Service for Older People in Ireland. This report remains the most substantial piece of research and analysis of the sector. The report noted that 89% of those staffing Meals On Wheels services around the country were volunteer staff, with just 11% being full time or part time paid staff (NCAOP 2008:104). The heavy reliance on a volunteer workforce provides a challenge to individual Meals On Wheels providers not just in recruiting and volunteers and maintaining staffing levels, but also in being able to provide health and safety training and nutritional standards and variety of meals. These organisations do a vital job in the community but there is no standardised national training and supervision. Nor is there a national strategy to fund and develop the service for the future.
IRL has set up the National Meals On Wheels Network in response to this challenge. By pooling the experience of the many organisations operating Meals On Wheels services around the country, the network will provide a valuable support system for those networks, and a unified voice in advocating for a national funding and development strategy. This will help ensure that services are maintained, improved and expanded to serve all those who can benefit from them. The latter includes not just the direct recipients of the Meals On Wheels service, but the community as a whole.
If you or your organisation would like to participate in the network, or to get further information, contact James Claffey at IRL (firstname.lastname@example.org).