THE DEPARTMENT of Health has announced eight principles to encourage the improvement of hospital food.
The list includes the adoption of Government Buying Standards as standard wherever possible.
Hospitals should also regularly evaluate their food service and act on feedback from patients. Healthy diets should also be promoted to patients, staff and visitors, according to the new guidelines.
Teams of assessors, half of which must be patients, have already carried out pilot inspections across the country looking at aspects of food that are important to patients.
Hospitals will, from April, be marked down if food is poor quality, if menus do not have suitable options for patients with special requirements (such as vegetarians or patients with religious needs), and if hot meals are not provided in the evenings.
The Hospital Caterers Association welcomed the initiative. The new principles for patient food help to establish a level playing field by which all hospital food operators will now have to abide, said national chair Janice Gillan. It is also strong confirmation that hospital food is, once again, high on the Governments agenda.
With the Government backing the call for improved standards as well as the requirement for all NHS hospitals to follow the principles, Gillan said there will be even greater encouragement for NHS Trusts to raise their priority for catering services and budgets. This can only be beneficial for hospital caterers endeavouring to provide a high standard of food for their patients, she added.
However, campaign groups have suggested the principles dont go far enough. The lack of support across Whitehall for the food buying standards, for instance, has been well-publicised.
Alex Jackson, co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, explained: In the last 10 years alone, the Government has spent more than £54m of taxpayers money on similar projects, all of which have proven to fail. Its time for the Government to take real action to improve hospital food by requiring all hospitals to meet compulsory food standards.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said patients have the right to expect food that is of high quality and healthy. There are lots of hospitals already doing this, but in some places, the NHS falls short. Patients deserve the highest standards, and by making sure they lead the inspections, we will put their experience at the heart of improving the NHS.
Some hospitals have already taken steps to improve the quality of food they provide. Northumberland Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has begun using a colour picture menu following feedback that many older patients, sometimes with dementia, would order the last thing on the menu as they found it difficult to remember the other options. A trial of the system showed a drastic increase in the amount of food being eaten by vulnerable elderly patients.
The Royal Cornwall Hospital, meanwhile, has increased the procurement of fresh and local ingredients.