Monday 17 December 2018
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New rules to serve up better food for NHS patients and staff

  The NHS will have mandatory food standards and hospitals will be ranked on food quality as part of a wide-ranging drive to raise standards of hospital food across the country.

  mandatory food standards in the NHS contract for the first time
    hospitals rated for food quality on NHS Choices

The Hospital Food Standards Panel, led by Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of Age UK, has published its report to the government today and recommends 5 legally-binding food standards for the NHS. The panel has worked with a range of organisations, including royal colleges and nutritional experts.

The mandatory requirements were selected from over 50 food quality standards. These will now be included in the NHS Standard Contract – making them legally-binding for hospitals. They include:

    hospitals should screen patients for malnutrition and patients should have a food plan
    hospitals must take steps to ensure patients get the help they need to eat and drink, including initiatives such as protected meal times where appropriate
    hospital canteens must promote healthy diets for staff and visitors – the food offered will need to comply with government recommendations on salt, saturated fats and sugar
    food must be sourced in a sustainable way so that it is healthy, good for individuals and for our food industry

In addition to the panel’s compulsory standards, it has also recommended all hospitals develop a food and drink policy that aims to encourage healthy eating, high-quality food production, sustainability and excellent nutritional care.

Complementing the new standards, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has announced hospitals will, for the first time, be ranked on the NHS Choices website for the quality of their food. The latest patient inspections data has been published on NHS Choices and shows how each hospital performs on:

    quality of food
    choice of food
    menu approved by a dietitian
    fresh fruit always available
    food available between meals
    choice at breakfast
    cost of food services per patient per day

Food is a critical part of a patient’s hospital experience. It needs to be nutritious, appetising and accessible to patients, their visitors and NHS staff. It should meet social and cultural expectations and be packaged and presented so that people can eat and enjoy it. Food must also be clinically appropriate and everyone who needs more help to eat and drink should get it. When a patient is malnourished it makes recovery more difficult, increases length of stay and can lead to complications such as pressure sores and infections.

Hospitals that do not follow the guidance recommended by the panel would be in breach of their commissioning contract (usually held with a clinical commissioning group), and commissioners will be able to take contractual action against them.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will use a range of information, including the patient inspection data, to spot potential problems with food and to determine which hospitals need closer inspection of their food practices.

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, said:

    We are making the NHS more transparent, giving patients the power to compare food on wards and incentivising hospitals to raise their game. Many hospitals are already offering excellent food to their patients and staff. But we want to know that all patients have nourishing and appetising food to help them get well faster and stay healthy, which is why we’re introducing tough new mandatory standards for the first time ever.

Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of Age UK and Panel Chair, said:

    Being in hospital is often a very worrying experience and it can be made worse when the food is unfamiliar or unappetising and you have no control over what and when you eat and drink. Whilst hospitals are not five-star restaurants, it’s important that food and drink is tasty, nourishing and thoughtfully presented so that people can eat as well possible.

    Getting hospital food and drink right is critical and should also be considered an important part of someone’s medical care. Malnutrition and dehydration pose a real risk for patients if they go unnoticed and untreated. We know malnourished people will take longer to recover and suffer from more complications. No hospital can afford to neglect this essential part of their care.

    I believe these recommendations will help busy hospital staff make sure patients get appetising and nutritious food that they want to eat and are given the help they need to do so.

Professor Edward Baker, Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the CQC, said:

    It’s really important for patients to have access to good quality food based on their own needs. During our inspections, we speak to patients and check records to ensure patients are receiving the right food for their individual needs. Our findings determine which hospitals need closer inspection of their food practices.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said:

    It is time for the NHS set a clear example in providing healthier food for our patients, visitors and also our hardworking staff. That’s why NHS England has agreed to include hospital standards in the next NHS Contract, which will be published later this year.