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Hospital Caterers Association Says Government Must Act To Ensure Most Vulnerable Given The Best Possible Care

Prince Charles’ views on hospital food prompts the Hospital Caterers Association to reiterate calls for government support. The Association is calling the Government to account after the revelations in HRH’s correspondence with a former Health Minister over the state of hospital food.

The Princes’ views bring to light important questions about the quality of food we are serving patients in this country. Questions that the hospital catering sector itself has been asking for many years, and to which the HCA has been leading the way, finding the best solutions through the memberships’ sterling work, looking for continual improvements in standards and quality, informed by patient feedback.

To the HCA, the standard of catering in hospitals is of the highest priority.

Undernourishment and dehydration are serious issues and a major hindrance to patient recuperation. Good quality and nutritionally balanced food can aid a speedy recovery and help reduce readmission rates by ensuring that patients do not leave hospital malnourished.

By working with and listening to the patients we serve, we’re ensuring we provide menus and the dishes they want to eat. But that can vary according to the patient group as one size does not fit all. We not only have to cover the different age groups, we are now faced with an increasingly ageing population and obesity is on the rise. So we are also mindful of rising malnutrition, which we believe costs the NHS more than obesity and which will grow with the ageing population and as the challenges in the social care/health care mix become more prevalent.

In recent years there have been discernible improvements – television programmes for the BBC led by James Martin have sought to raise the profile of these issues, and initiatives such as the Hospital Food Standards Panel have seen some central guidance for Trusts and caterers.

Responding to government data that showed in 2006-07, 12,486,670 meals were wasted in the NHS, equivalent to just under 9 per cent of all meals served in the 12-month period, HRH railed against poor hospital food and urged the Government to reduce “criminal wastage” by sourcing from local farmers instead of serving reheated meals. In a letter in July 2008 to the ‘then’ Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, Prince Charles cited an initiative at the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea, where fresh ingredients were cooked on site, and urged the Government to replicate it elsewhere. Referring to HCA Member Mike Duckett, the “quite brilliant” Head of Catering at the Hospital for the use of seasonal, fresh (and wherever possible, organic) food, the Prince applauded Mike’s approach, which has benefited health, plus minimised waste.”

However, if standards are to be truly raised across the board we must have nutritional standards in place and a commitment to a minimum spend on every meal. Currently, meal spend differs wildly on a Trust by Trust basis and there is no continuity in the service provided. We need this to be rectified and mandated by the Government.

The HCA is constantly looking at our service offering, exploring how improvements can be made across the 4 Nations, with an equal focus on the ward end. However, to improve the quality of all aspects of patient food and drink provision, caterers must have budgetary parity and must be allowed to take responsibility for the whole of the ward service to ensure consistency and support for a patient’s total food and drink provision, wherever they are and by whatever method the food is produced, anywhere in the UK.

There needs to be far greater recognition of the nutritional value of food in the treatment of patients. Committed to the training and development of the members and the value of collaborative working, this is facilitated through the sharing of informed good practice to, by and for our members and like minded partners.

Food and drink is a critical part of the patients recovery plan and ‘Food is the Best Form of Medicine’. This needs to be embedded in the organisations as part of their culture. Nutritional standards and a mandatory minimum spend would hold every provider to account and raise the bar for hospital food throughout the UK.

HCA Honorary National Chair, Phil Shelley says, “Our aims as an Association for the coming year are clear: putting the patient first in our daily routines, whether that is in staffing structures, financial controls, menu planning, bedside booklets or procurement of food and equipment. We must find a way within our own environment to be part of the clinical decision making. We also need to reflect that the only way we can improve the patient experience is through their meals and the caterer is nearer the front line than any other facilities service that we provide.”

Our focus is on the ‘Last 9 Yards’, spearheading campaigns and initiatives that will enable hospital caterers to not only continue to achieve those high standards but most importantly, safeguard the nutritional care of all of our patients. Shelley concludes, “There is no doubt that hospital food and catering services will continue to be in the spotlight as patients’ expectations continue to rise and the NHS is used as a political weapon. The Government must act to support our campaign to ensure those most vulnerable are given the best possible care.”

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