The Hospital Caterers Association's National Leadership and Development Forum is a chance for this industry to share ideas for keeping the sector in good shape while awarding the achievements of its brightest stars. Katey Pigden reports
The Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) was born in 1948, the same year as the NHS. It was formed to promote, develop and improve the standards of catering in hospitals and healthcare establishments.
The organisation now has 15 branches across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It holds several events throughout the year, with the National Leadership and Development Forum regarded as its calendar highlight.
This year's event took place on 14-15 April at the Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) in Liverpool and featured guest speakers, around 90 exhibition trade stands, the president's dinner and the annual HCA awards. There was even a Gordon Ramsay lookalike, helping supplier Anglia Crown mark the launch of a new dessert range for hospitals and care homes, who spent most of the event posing for photos.
The forum was organised by the Merseyside and North Wales Branch of the HCA. The theme was ‘With a Little Help from my Friends', taking inspiration from the Beatles' song to highlight the importance of collaboration across the entire hospital setting, and with the likes of the fellow public-sector bodies the NACC (National Association of Care Catering) and LACA (the Lead Association for Catering in Education).
The road to recovery
Storey was diagnosed in 2013 and went from leading an active lifestyle to needing a wheelchair and losing sensation in much of his body. Storey said: "I went from running marathons to needing 24-hour acute care. At one point I couldn't even hold a spoon and feed myself."
But after a bone-marrow transplant that made use of his stem cells, Storey is now able to swim and cycle again. He was one of 20 patients to receive the pioneering treatment, which essentially rebuilds the immune system, at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.
After four months, Storey could stand unaided. He needs to use a wheelchair, but can manage short distances without any support.
Storey told delegates: "We all know how a great meal can make us feel. The treatment I received from the catering team was wonderful. They went to extraordinary lengths to support me in my recovery. One thing which became increasingly clear to me was that everybody fundamentally cares."
He added: "Nine days after the treatment I was able to flicker a toe - it was the best day of my life. But in order to continue to recover I knew I needed medicine, as well as sleep and nutrition. Sleep is difficult in a hospital, but nutrition can be controlled and food can bring a sense of normality. I wasn't just treated as a patient; I was treated as an individual."
HCA charity bike ride
Storey was joined by Elizabeth Hawkshaw, the catering manager at Central Campus, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. "Seeing Steven get out of bed and touch his toes was the most amazing thing I have ever seen," she said.
Hawkshaw explained the many challenges that the catering team encountered throughout Storey's time in hospital. "He wasn't eating particularly well, his weight plummeted and his muscles started to deteriorate.
"He had always been an extremely healthy eater and we had to convince him to eat cake. I'm a champion of healthy eating generally, but when it comes to patients and their needs, I talk about all food," she added. "You get a feeling of euphoria when patients who have been so ill request something."
Storey was a pescatarian when he was admitted to hospital, but that meant he was struggling to ensure he had all the nutrients he needed to aid his recovery. Hawkshaw said: "We tried to talk him round to chicken and realised we had to develop a 'little and often' approach with him, as opposed to the three main meals."
She said she empowered her staff to ensure Storey's needs were always met by doing whatever was required. "The catering assistants started to realise the impact they were having. They didn't view it as going the extra mile; they see the extra mile as part of their job."
Unsurprisingly, Hawkshaw was named Caterer of the Year at the HCA's annual award ceremony.
L to R: Philip Shelley, Val Landers and Fionnuala Cook
The best form of medicine
The notion of the healing capabilities of food is not a new idea. Florence Nightingale knew that nursing needed to encompass "fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet and proper selection and administration of diet." Even Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, is famed for having supposedly said: "Let food by your medicine, and medicine be your food." It is a mantra which many hospital caterers hold dear.
Amanda Cartmill, the HCA forum secretary, certainly believes in this philosophy. "Good, nutritious food is important for a patient's health and wellbeing and it speeds up recovery," she said. "We are all aware that food is the best form of medicine, but getting that message out to other groups and informing them about the importance of our work and the need for positive change has been very difficult over the years.
"The national hospital catering budget is currently in excess of £1b and is therefore a major contribution to government spend."
Cartmill also referenced caterers' need to reach out for 'a little help' from friends. "Never has it been so important for us to reinforce the message that collaborative working within the NHS is what will raise the standards. Through it, we can assist with a patient's recovery and wellbeing and contribute to financial stability."
Rosie Boycott, who was appointed the chair of the London Food Board to help improve Londoners' access to healthy, locally produced and affordable food, was also a guest speaker.
"Steven's story said it all," she said, referencing Storey's talk about his recovery. "What can food do? Everything. It can cure you and it can kill you. Our bodies are chemical factories. Everything that goes into our body does something and our body has to do something with it."
Boycott acknowledged the difficult task hospital caterers are faced with daily, admitting, "It's difficult enough producing 20 meals at the same time in a restaurant, let alone hundreds in a hospital. But if we can't get it right in hospitals, how are we going to get it right anywhere? Hospitals need to lead the way."
She explained that although "the NHS is groaning under an obesity epidemic" one of the main reasons elderly people go into hospital is because of malnutrition. "The decline of the meals on wheels service shows a lack of joined-up thinking around food," she said.
Boycott explained that it's not just patients that need catering - often staff are eating inadequately while at work. "We are not feeding our hospital staff properly. There's nothing decent to eat for night staff and I have only ever found one hospital where there is a proper night-time food service. They end up relying on the likes of vending machines. I think that's terrible. We have an issue with obesity, not just with patients, but with 25% of NHS staff too.
"Food really matters and it's totally in our control. We can feed people the right stuff."
The HCA awards and president's dinner
More than 300 people attended the president's dinner and HCA 2016 awards ceremony on 14 April to recognise the commitment and contributions of the association's members.
Six awards were handed out on the night, including a new category, the 6Cs Award, for the team that has demonstrated a focus on the care of the patient by maximising the six Cs - care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment.
Phil Shelley, national chair of HCA, said: "Every year the judging gets harder as the standard and volume of entries continues to rise. It was a spectacular night and we were particularly pleased to see so many of our peers coming together in collaboration with others to produce best-in-class catering services."
The evening also included a charity raffle and auction in aid of Awyr Las Blue Sky from North Wales, and Claire House Children's Hospice, Merseyside. The fundraising efforts were added to the association's charity cycle challenge, which has raised £9,800 in total.
L to R: Michael Porter, Elizabeth Hawkshaw and Steven Storey
The HCA awards winners
- Caterer of the Year Elizabeth Hawkshaw, catering manager, Central Campus, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Catering Service of the Year Pamela Mailler, Golden Jubilee Foundation Hospital
- The 6Cs Award Paul Coulson and Simon Clarke, Serco/East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust
- Chairman's Choice Northern Branch
- Wilma Wilkie Outstanding Service Award Val Landers, Wales Branch
- Trade Stand Award McCain Foods
Next year's forum
The 2017 Leadership and Development Forum will be hosted by the Northern Ireland Branch of the HCA at the Europa hotel in Belfast on 6-7 April.
It will have the theme 'Seize the Moment - Deliver the Future' and will explore the challenges within the health and social care sector and how they can be addressed.
Speakers at the event will suggest how a single service with a four-nation delivery approach, where networks of linked hospitals work in partnership, can be taken by drawing reference from the structurally integrated health and social care system in Northern Ireland, which has been in place since 1973.
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