Care homes need to do more to ensure residents get real choice at mealtimes

24th May 2018

Healthwatch Surrey is calling on care homes to improve experiences of mealtimes by providing real choice and better opportunities for residents and families to give feedback, after it found that some residents were reluctant to speak up when staff were busy.

The local independent watchdog for health and care visited 20 care homes in the county and spoke to 237 residents, visitors and staff about food and drink and how it contributes to health and wellbeing. Although there were many examples of care homes making mealtimes more enjoyable, some residents were not offered choice or felt unable to exercise choice.

Healthwatch Surrey volunteers observed menus in print too small to read; fruit that was offered whole rather than cut into pieces for those who needed it; and no choice of dessert offered to some residents on restricted diets.

Kate Scribbins, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Surrey said:

“Although we are encouraged by how committed the care homes are to the importance of food and drink, we are concerned that some residents seem to be moderating their expectations or not speaking up because they know what pressure care home staff are under.

“Small changes such as menus showing pictures of food rather than text descriptions, showing meal options plated up, or cutting up fruit, can make a big difference to residents’ experience.

“The honest and open feedback gathered by our volunteers has highlighted that homes need to think creatively about how such important information can be gathered on a day-do-day basis. Opportunities for real time feedback such as a chef chatting to residents in the dining room, or a comment book, can capture precious feedback, make residents and families feel that their comments are valued, and offer homes more opportunities to continually improve care.”

Other examples of good practice identified by Healthwatch volunteers during their visits included:

  • Drinks made more interesting by offering fruit shots, alcohol-free cocktails and ice-lollies
  • Large napkins being used instead of bib-style aprons
  • Themed meals and parties including garden parties, Halloween, international days (e.g. Spanish, Polish).

Ms Scribbins continued: “We hope that this report is used to inspire small but impactful changes that care homes can make to not only improve residents’ physical and mental health but also their overall sense of wellbeing and control. As one care home manager put it ‘food is one the last things you can enjoy’, which just emphasises why we must get it right.”

Recommendations have been identified for care home providers and their commissioners at Surrey County Council and responses to these will be published on the Healthwatch Surrey website later in the year.

A copy of the report is available at

Anyone who would like to share their experience of an NHS or social care service can contact Healthwatch Surrey on 0303 303 0023 or email



Notes to Editors

  1. Between February and March 2018, Healthwatch Surrey staff supported especially trained volunteers to carry out ‘Enter and View’ visits to 20 care homes in the county to observe the environment and speak to residents, staff and managers.
  2. Healthwatch Surrey undertook the visits because the watchdog hears less from older people living in care homes than other groups. As the number of people living in care homes is set to rise, Healthwatch Surrey made it a priority to amplify the voices of older people in care homes to ensure that their experiences, and the associated learning, are shared with care homes and their commissioners.
  3. Individual visit reports are published on the Healthwatch Surrey website at
  4. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 grants all local Healthwatch the statutory power to ‘Enter and View’ all publicly funded health and social care services. Enter and View is not an inspection, but instead offers a lay person’s perspective on how services are being delivered.