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Shocking new stats lead to calls for legal standards for hospital food

A new report published today (March 23) by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food reveals a fresh set of shocking statistics around the standard of food served in NHS hospitals in London, as a result of which new calls are being made for tough legal requirements on food in NHS England hospitals. The report results, released on NHS Sustainability Day, show many hospitals struggling to serve and sell freshly prepared, healthy and ethically sourced food for patients, staff and hospital visitors.

The research was conducted by a group of food and health organisations working to improve hospital food standards, coordinated by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, part of Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. The research report: Taking the Pulse of Hospital Food: a Survey of NHS hospitals using London as a test case, has a foreword from Prue Leith, new Bake Off presenter and hospital food champion, who says: “Hospital food has a deservedly poor reputation and NHS patients and staff deserve better. This report shows that at the moment most hospitals are not serving fresh, tasty and wholesome food so we must have legal standards, like those already in place for school food and prison food, to make sure good food is a priority in our hospitals.”

Jo Ralling, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation Campaign Manager and supporter of the campaign, says: “The Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s report is a must read for all policy makers in the country. We’ve had legal food standards for schools and prisons for a decade, there’s no reason we can’t extend these same protections to hospitals. Let’s all work together to get NHS patients and staff the good healthy food they deserve.”

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food report shows that half of London hospitals (50%) say they are not meeting basic hospital food standards and under a third (only 30%) of hospitals say they are cooking fresh food on-site for their patients. Disappointingly, about a fifth of hospitals (17%) say they serve food to patients in plastic ready meal trays, a fifth of hospitals (20%) do not provide patients with a hot meal if they miss mealtimes, and over a quarter of hospitals (27%) are not asking patients about their food experiences, which might otherwise provide the incentive to improve food standards. Whilst the research took 30 of London’s hospitals as a test case, compliance with food standards reflects the picture we see with hospitals across the England.

Katherine Button, coordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, says: “The Government has failed to take seriously the dire state of hospital food for too long and now half of London hospitals are not meeting even basic food standards. Good food plays an essential role in recovery, wellbeing and morale, and patients and staff in NHS hospitals deserve better. The standard of food in schools and in prisons is protected by legal minimum standards and we demand the same high quality food for patients, staff and visitors eating in hospitals.”
Food quality appears just as bleak for hardworking NHS staff. The research found that around two-thirds of hospitals surveyed (60%) do not yet have healthy food available for staff working night shifts. Diet related disease is a growing problem amongst people working in hospitals, with more than 700,000 overweight or obese. Despite this, bringing in a healthy packed meal from home is not an option for some as nearly a quarter of hospitals (23%) say they do not provide staff with any fridge space to store food.

Currently, detailed data on hospital food is not collected by government or the NHS, nor is it released routinely by local NHS Trusts. This is the first research to lift the lid on food available in hospitals for patients, staff and visitors. The Campaign for Better Hospital Food hopes that by shining a light on hospital food standards, and staff and patient experiences of food, Government will introduce legally binding food standards for hospital food, which will include strict codes to drive up the quality of the ingredients that go into patient food to make sure meals are fresh, tasty and sustainable and govern standards for food served in hospital shops, restaurants and vending machines, akin to rules already in place in the Scottish NHS.

Commenting on the report, Phil Shelley, National Chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, says: "Although this report highlights some positive examples, it appears to give a narrow view of what service should be like and does not fully consider the constraints hospital caterers have to work under.

"The recommendations in the report - to cook fresh and on site and the pledge to bring that into law, bears no relevance to the financial constraints or actual infrastructure in place within hospitals. it also does not consider the strong government-led programme of private finance initiative (PFI) hospitals.

"The report gives suggestions as to what hospitals and the NHS can do to address issues concerning food and by doing so it implies that hospitals have the power to implement specific changes, when in fact many of the decisions would have to come from the government."
He adds: "Buying only British food would have extreme cost implications for the NHS and we would certainly welcome and support any suggestion that hospitals and catering departments should be provided with more resources, particularly financial, to support the delivery of nutritious food within hospital settings."