The Hospital Caterers Association Reveals The REAL COSTS For Food In The NHS

We’re on the final countdown toFoodmatters‘, the HCA’s National Leadership & Development Forum 2015, taking place in Glasgow next week. It’s a two-day Forum  where we are supported by a line up of expert Speakers to more than whet the appetite!

“And food certainly does matter,” says HCA National Chair, Andy Jones, “but how do we meet the needs of the patients and staff and visitors and improve the food standards when we know that our Members have effectively seen a minimum 18% reduction in their food budgets in the last 5 years?”

“Food and drink matters to every NHS Caterer,” says Jones, “and right from the very start of the Hospital Caterers Association that came into being some 68 years back, (the year Nye Bevan created the NHS), the HCA has always had this as one of the core values and it continues to be so. Our simple message is that ‘Food is the best form of medicine’.”

Jones continues, “Yet year on year we see figures published that are either factually incorrect or misleading for many reasons including the Department of Health Estates Return Information Collection (ERIC) asking too many detailed questions. In reality, it is not always the caterer who completes the returns, but finance staff or others who may not understand the words like daily food cost excluding ward issues. This naturally affects the credibility and reliability of the data. I blame no one for this other than the system itself, however, the good news is that the HCA is leading a review into the questions posed in the likes of ERIC.”

It is clear that the HCA is driving change ‘where it matters’, but hospital caterers and hospital food are continually in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Jones states the HCA has made progress in changing this mind-set over the last two years, but what of the cost disparities? Patient Led Assessments of the Care Environment (PLACE) provides widely differing unit costs of meals per Trust, going from £1.20 per day! to £29.40 per patient meal, so how can that be?

Daily Food Cost (no labour) – Broken down per meal

Traditional Cook Food Cost
Breakfast 0:55p
Lunch £1.19
Dinner £1.3


Delivered Meals Food Cost
Breakfast 0:55p
Lunch £2.30
Dinner £2.45


The HCA National Chair points to the true costs of patient meals (food only) found in a recent survey of HCA members, where they found Cost Improvement Programmes (CIPs) applied over the last 5 years is a year on year average of 4% year on year. However HCA members are reporting in 2015 that figure is higher, with some at 7%. New dictats, such as the Hospital Food Standards Plan that came into force on 1 April will bring added pressures. And this, coupled with the increased food costs over the last 5 years, shows the true impact is around a 18% reduction in their food budgets in the last 5 years.

All of which has consequences to the caterers and the service we provide. The spend that hospital caterers have in comparison to other sectors is less than, for example, the prison service. But Jones is not really complaining because caterers just accept this. “We know in the current economic climate we need to be prudent, so this is not about demanding more money or making an election stance. It is to show clearly the true costs that HCA members have to spend daily, and how over the last 5 years this has been cut, despite the demands for improvements and more choice.

The NHS does not do well at promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle among its staff. What Jones wants to see is that FOOD is made integral to the patients recovery and staff/visitors wellbeing. And it is CATERERS, with their catering experience not just their knowledge, that must lead the service.

“Whichever government gets elected our mandate is that food and drink budgets are protected against continued CIPs. We are working with Trust CEOs/Directors of Nursing to get the buy in for their Food and Drink to become a strategic Board matter, from the top down. And we’re working with all those involved in delivering the service, from nurses to dietitians to caterers to suppliers, to get their engagement and buy in to consistently promote, develop, implement and adhere to the Standards, from the bottom up. And we want ALL Trust caterers to become members of the HCA, working with patients not just when the ‘Tick Box’ of PLACE comes around, but all the time. This is what the HCA members do now.”

“To reiterate,” says Jones, “good nutritious food assists the patients recovery and it enables staff to work better. We know we’ve some way to go and there’s always room for improvement. So that’s why we’re excited to be at the Forum working collaboratively with and supported by such an esteemed line up of experts from industry, the media and beyond,  acknowledging where we are, and looking to where we need to be. ‘Foodmatters’ recognises the need to move forward, together, with a fully patient-centred approach. Our annual National Conference and Exhibition event has been repositioned as the Leadership & Development Forum, and what better way to demonstrate both leadership and development than by our ‘partners/Speakers’ at the Forum leading the way.

“However, all of the above can be undone in what we are calling the ‘Last 9 Yards’,” Jones concludes. “In essence, good food can be ruined/spoilt in those last few steps. That’s the focus of Day 2 at the HCA’s 2015 Leadership & Development Forum, and the work that the HCA is doing on the ‘Last 9 Yards’ is our focus, going forward.”
‘Food is the Best Form of Medicine’ is the HCA’s strapline, and it underlines our whole ethos.