Bad hospital food affects NHS staff too

Bad hospital food affects NHS staff too

The Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) supports the view of Dr Na’eem Ahmed, clinical fellow to Prof Sir Bruce Keogh at NHS England, on how, as the purveyor of health and wellbeing, the NHS does not do well at promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle among its staff.

“But we’d go further,” says Andy Jones, National Chair of the HCA. “I can tell you that we constantly hear about healthy eating; it must be key, as the HCA are always driving it into the NHS culture. But our core stance is that patient feeding must be focused on ‘EATING FOR GOOD HEALTH’, and for Staff and Visitors’ catering, on ‘HEALTHY EATING’, and that’s what we are campaigning for.”

In 2009, the Department of Health estimated that of the 1.2 million staff in the NHS, approximately 300,000 would be classified as obese and a further 400,000 as overweight.

As outlined in Dr Ahmed’s feature, trying to redress this problem, which ‘…has centred on patients, with less attention given to improving provision for NHS staff, despite the looming burden of obesity among staff’, the Royal College of Physicians’ Action on Obesity report ‘outlines recommendations for reducing obesity among staff including implementation of NICE recommendations for obesity in the workplace and better labelling of foods in hospitals. However diktats from policymakers on hospital catering reform seem to have gained little or no traction.’

Andy Jones, National Chair HCA

Andy Jones, National Chair HCA

“This is why we have stated it’s time for action now”, notes Andy Jones. “We understand that patient and staff wellbeing are the most powerful drivers for change and that failure to tackle the issue of staff wellbeing may translate into poorer outcomes for patients. So the HCA is the Association who should deliver this, as we represent the professionals who have to provide the service each day and we know what is required.

“If we are talking about this becoming a key part of their quality improvement strategy, we need a plan, covering the 4 Nations, which promotes choice and guarantees that caterers provide nutritious and wholesome food, but ensures that healthy foods are displayed prominently, with prices made more attractive for the healthy products.

The HCA has no issue with snacks being offered in restaurants, cafes, vending machines and shops on site, and it does not want to see fizzy drinks stopped (as people will purchase them elsewhere and the Trust will lose income, which often goes back into patient food).

“However in terms of their positioning”, continues Jones, “we need to make healthier options easier to see and buy. Sell chocolate bars by all means, but outlaw the duo type bars, and carry biscuits, but in packaging carrying no more than three of the said biscuits, and most certainly, carry no packets of more than 200gms, or tins and  ‘grab-bags’ of sweets/crisps.”

Looking at the food on offer in the hospital’s restaurant/cafe-bars, the Association needs to see vegetables and potatoes prepared without being cooked in salt or excess fat. For things like new potatoes, sell them without being covered in butter, but offer butter or low fat spread at the side so the customer can choose to use them, or not. And serve salads naked wherever possible, with accompaniments like coleslaw or pasta salads using low fat dressings only.

Emphasising the point, Andy explains that the HCA guidance goes further: one item that should be banned in the NHS and treated as alcohol is high energy drinks, an approach which the HCA believes should be the case across the whole industry.

“But we don’t need more regulations,” attests the HCA Chair. As Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who when time permits, continues to work as an NHS hospital doctor on an unpaid basis, prepares to announce his recommendations for hospital catering services, where it is said that ‘urgent reform is required’, Andy Jones stresses in conclusion, “we need the Trusts and the Government to also look at the shops on site and apply any changes on them as well.

“By following our recommendations, we believe that Hospital Trusts and Commissioners can play a leading role by promoting healthier alternatives and increase competition/innovation among suppliers to drive up quality.

“We have tried on many occasions to engage with the BMA but have had no take-up. So now, instead of coming out with yet more letters and initiatives, work with the HCA, the Association that supports the education and training of persons charged with delivering healthcare catering services, who can deliver this.”

We would really like your views and experience of hospital food so please do send them to or post them on our website.  Ed.