24/7 meals on the menu under new hospital blueprint

Hospitals should adopt digital ordering systems and provide a hot meal at all times of the day as part of a raft of measures to improve the catering experience for staff and patients.

The recommendations were part of a new blueprint for hospital food launched this week by the Department of Health and Social Care. The independent review was led by chef and restauranteur Prue Leith and supported by a panel of food and health professionals.

The review makes a series of recommendations to improve staff and patient health and wellbeing through hospital food. They include measures to upgrade hospital kitchens so they can provide a hot meal at any time of the day, and the introduction of digital menus and food ordering systems which can factor in a patient’s dietary and cultural requirements, and nutritional needs.

NHS trusts are also being urged to ensure government food procurement standards on sustainability are upheld and to agree a common method of monitoring food waste.

“Food is not only important to health, but to morale,” said Leith. “Hospital mealtimes should be a moment of enjoyment and a pleasure to serve. They should inspire staff, patients and visitors to eat well at home.”

The “root and branch” review of food served and sold in hospitals was commissioned following an outbreak of listeriosis in 2019. In future, hospitals should ensure food safety through open communication channels to address safety concerns and by appointing food safety specialists and upholding standards.

The review also recommends introducing professional qualifications and standards for hospital caterers, providing more training and rewarding excellence with pay progressions.

The NHS is the second biggest provider of meals in the UK public sector, serving 141 million inpatient meals in 2019 to around 125,000 patients a day. While NHS survey data shows 58% of patients rate hospital food as very good or good, 39% of hospital staff feel that food and catering facilities offered in their workplaces is poor.

“Good food could be game-changing in turning the tide on poor-quality food being served across English hospitals, but only if the recommendations are implemented in full,” said Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association. Percival urged hospital trusts to use their buying power to support British farmers and enable environmentally sustainable food production.

The government said it would establish an expert group of NHS caterers, dietitians and nurses to take forward the recommendations made in the report and decide on next steps.

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