The government has created a ‘new blueprint for better hospital food' following an independent review of hospital catering, led by a panel of advisers including chef and restaurateur Prue Leith.
The Hospital Food Review board, chaired by Philip Shelley, former head of the Hospital Caterers Association and catering lead for Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, published its findings today and makes recommendations on how NHS trusts can prioritise food safety and nutrition for both staff and patients.
The review makes eight recommendations:
- Catering staff support: introduce professional qualifications and standards for hospital caterers, provide more training and reward excellence with pay progressions.
- Nutrition and hydration: ensure importance of food services is understood and integrated within patient recovery, hospital governance and staff training.
- Food safety: ensure food safety through open communication channels to address safety concerns, by appointing food safety specialists and upholding standards.
- Facilities: provide funding to equip and upgrade hospital kitchens, provide 24/7 services for staff and patients, prioritise providing health-enhancing meals.
- Technology: every hospital should implement a digital meal ordering system by 2022 to collate food choices, manage allergies and diets, and minimise waste.
- Enforcing standards: food and drinks standards should be statutory and inspected by the CQC, a forum should be established to share exemplary best practice.
- Sustainability and waste: ensure government food procurement standards are upheld, NHS trusts should agree a common method of monitoring food waste.
- Going forward: establish an expert group of hospital caterers, dietitians and nurses to monitor progress, accountable to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, said: "This pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the importance of good food and proper nutrition. We must all prioritise our health and be empowered to eat well, whether we're at home or in hospital. This impressive report shows the way to good hospital food for all – patients, staff and visitors.
"Across the NHS and in the 40 new hospitals we are set to build I want to ensure – with Prue's help – that we deliver really good hospital food. Alongside our new obesity strategy to improve the nation's diet, the NHS is leading by example when it comes to public health."
Leith added: "The review provides best-in-class examples of how hospitals can serve delicious, nutritious and nicely presented meals on a budget.
"Food is not only important to health, but to morale. Hospital mealtimes should be a moment of enjoyment and a pleasure to serve. They should inspire staff and patients – and visitors – to eat well at home."
Recruitment has begun for the expert group of hospital caterers, dietitians and nurses who will monitor the progression of these recommendations.
The group's chair Shelley commented: "Just as our staff need the right tools to do their job, we also need to ensure that they have the nutrition and hydration they require to perform their crucial roles.
"The wellbeing of our NHS staff is vital because it affects their mental and physical health, as well as the quality of care they deliver for patients. A lack of nutritious food and drink can contribute to feelings of stress and lack of control in the workplace."
Fellow board member of the Hospital Food Review and chair of the HCA Craig Smith welcomed the recommendations but questioned the government's transparency around funding: "The Hospital Food Review, published today, sets out new national standards for improving hospital food. It establishes eight recommendations to improve staff and patient health and wellbeing through hospital food. These recommendations span catering staff, nutrition and hydration, food safety, facilities, technology, standards, sustainability, and a fit-for-the-future approach.
"These recommendations are excellent, and we fully support them. Yet we simply can't move forward without capital investment in our hospital catering operations, and we urge the government to release details of funding plans to support these initiatives.
"The review recommends every hospital should have at least one member of the HCA, that catering budgets should be ringfenced, and leadership engagement from executive stakeholders is paramount. The HCA endorses these recommendations. We already know from our members that trusts that have a high level of chief executive engagement can deliver some of the best catering services. For this to work to be at its most successful, food must be integrated in the whole life of the hospital, from patients to staff to visitors. Food must be considered part of a patient's care and treatment. Good food and drink should be prioritised with adequate budgets and support.
"The government recently announced a £3.7b fund to deliver 40 hospitals across England by 2030, which will include a focus on 21st-century catering facilities including restaurants, central kitchens, patient dining spaces and ward kitchens. We urge our members to bid for any funding which is available to help improve their catering operations."
Lee Sheppard, director of corporate affairs and public policy at hospital meals supplier Apetito, also welcomed the review. "As proud suppliers to the NHS, we welcome the Hospital Food Review and the acknowledgement that delivering great hospital food needs to focus on a whole variety of factors – including people, nutrition, food safety, sustainability, technology and more.
"The fact is that great hospital food is about so much more than the catering system used. Be it prepared meals or those cooked on site, all types of catering system can deliver high-quality results, but only if all the other factors are in place to support that.
"If we truly want to drive a quality agenda for food in our hospitals, we need to move away from the rhetoric that fresh and local is the only answer; evidence does not support this. The Review makes it clear – "one size does not fit all."
Shelley and Leith visited catering managers, staff and patients across the country, looking at best practice from those leading the way in NHS food quality and innovation. The findings of the hospital food review echo many of the themes in both the government's recently published Obesity Strategy and part one of the National Food Strategy.
The full report can be found here.