Student experiences of forensic services during COVID-19
A group of five student Dietitians share their experiences working as Dietetic Assistants during COVID-19 after their placements were postponed. They share what a valuable experience it was working within a forensic setting.
We are a group of five Dietetic Students in our final year of study at Leeds Beckett University. We have all come from a range of backgrounds to get onto our course from A Levels to access courses and foundation years, but we all have one goal in mind to finally become Registered Dietitians in the summer of 2021.
Whilst our placements were postponed, we undertook the roles of Dietetic Assistants at Leeds and York Partnership Foundation NHS Trust (LYPFT), to gain an overview of staff and service user attitudes and opinions on food and lifestyle in low secure forensic settings. We spent time getting to know service users and staff on the wards which allowed us to collect views on the catering system through conversations and questionnaires. We were also able to practice our communication skills whilst taking diet histories and using health screening tools such as BMI.
This led to the nerve wrecking task of presenting our findings within the trust via three online management meetings.
Whilst our findings were mixed there was a general dissatisfaction of the catered meals provided amongst the service users and staff. The dissatisfaction worsened throughout the first lockdown in March due to limitation and repetition of the meals. We became aware of the weight management issues amongst the wards with almost all service users having a BMI >30 kg/m2. Although some weight gain can be expected from antipsychotic medication, this was much more significant than it should be. This appears to have been exacerbated since admission due to food and lifestyle on the wards.
The staff take an active role to encourage healthy lifestyle choices amongst the service users by providing activities such as power walking, healthy lunch groups and fakeaways. However, this was much more difficult throughout COVID-19 due to restrictions in place. Staff were also enthusiastic about more healthy eating training throughout the services. The roles of the OTs had a positive impact on improving service users experience throughout their treatment. We were unaware how critical the OTs role were in the care of the service users in this setting.
Following our presentations of our findings to the management meetings, this sparked a lot of interest within the trust, even at strategic levels. It was refreshing to see an interest in Dietetics from top levels of the Trust. As a result, it was agreed that a Trust-wide board level Dietitian would be appointed. Our experiences have contributed to a wider research project, undertaken by Caroline Frascina, who is in a 9-month clinical supervisory role completing a strategic overview evaluating the dietetic skill mix for the forensic services.