Council Allays Fears Over New Meals Service

Confusion over the replacement for the meals on wheels service in Aberdeenshire is being played down by the council. But new rules prevent home carers heating up food frozen by the users’ family, because of health and safety regulations.

Instead, under the new system, they can only microwave the frozen meals supplied. However, ‘The Banffshire Journal’ can reveal that there is a loophole – families can apply for an exemption to the rule. All they have to do is sign forms taking responsibility that the food which they prepare meets all the guidelines about cooking and freezing food.

One local woman phoned the ‘Journal’ to complain that carers would not heat up the soup she had made for her mother.

Social work manager Joanna Hynd, based at Inverurie, said that no one was being left without their meals under the new arrangements, despite cases reported to ‘The Banffshire Journal’. But she admitted that some meals on wheels customers had forgotten about the changes which they had agreed to, leading to some confusion.

She said: “The vast majority have got the new service, but because of the fortnightly delivery, it is being phased in over a fortnight. All users have been visited by their home care supervisor, and had the options explained to them. We wouldn’t leave anyone without their meal service for a fortnight. Food is such a crucial factor in people’s lives. People can even end up in hospital because of poor nutrition.”

She explained council policy about heating up food not supplied by the council: “We have to conform with health and safety. We have to evidence food safety from frozen to cooked. But we want to promote the family, and we will continue to heat frozen food which the family has prepared, if they sign exemption forms. It shouldn’t be a problem. We are not in the job of making people miserable.

“It sounds very bureaucratic, but the rules are very strict. We will look at individual circumstances, and if the family are willing to accept responsibility for health and safety.” Exemptions should be discussed with the home care supervisor – “and will be looked at favourably,” she promised.

She defended the new meals, supplied by a private firm from Ellon. “The old system was not good enough. It did not comply with regulations. These meals are targeted to nutritional needs, and control levels of salt and sugar. They can be puréed if necessary, and can be tailored to meet ethnic requirements. We do advocate these meals.”

Mrs Hynd reports that 400 people in the area are already taking the new meals. A special small freezer and microwave are supplied free to the home of each user to store and prepare the meals. The new meals are supplied seven days a week.

In the former, much loved meals-on-wheels systrem, meals were cooked on the day, usually in school canteens or old folk’s homes’ kitchens, and delivered locally by a 600-strong army of WRVS volunteers in their cars. It ended on April 20 after 40 years.