A new professional catering qualification has been launched for the health and social care sector.
The NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Professional Cookery in Health and Social Care Catering came about as a result of a collaborative effort between the National Association of Care Catering (NACC), the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), and Barnet and Southgate College.
The 20-week course and qualification will pilot next month at Barnet and Southgate College in North London.
It is open to chefs and cooks working in hospitals or residential care homes who are able to attend Hospitality House, North London's state of the art training facility, for the duration of the course.
The diploma will cover the core curriculum required by any professional chef, including effective teamwork, hygiene, the maintenance of health and safety, and cookery units focusing on fish, meat and poultry preparation as well as vegetable dishes.
Additional specialised topics specific to the health and social care sector will cover the vital areas of nutrition and hydration, fortification, texture-modified foods, and allergies and diets.
The long-term aspiration, following the pilot, is to roll out the course to colleges nationwide by 2016.
Neel Radia, NACC national chair, said: "The absence of a professional qualification in health and social care catering has been a huge concern and injustice for the sector and those working within it. I'm thrilled that by working together with our association partners we are one giant step closer to redressing the balance. Caterers within the sector are already doing a great job and the examples of excellence we see daily are inspirational.
"However, the endorsement that this qualification brings will ensure that standards continue to rise by giving caterers the training, recognition and pride they deserve. It will also broaden the sector's appeal for school leavers, attracting new talent and flair, and this is incredibly exciting for us all."
Andy Jones, national chair of the HCA, agreed: "National standards for the profession is the way to go and this is a fantastic opportunity for training and development in our sector, not only for those working within the sector, but also as a pathway for students who, when leaving school, wish to train and work within health and social care catering."
Peter Tiley, head of Hospitality House, Barnet and Southgate College, added: "Experts from the sector have developed professional standards in the areas of nutrition and hydration, fortification, texture-modified foods, and allergies and diets.
"While studying the practical and theoretical skills required by a professional chef, the students will also benefit from the delivery of sector specific techniques."