The Hospital Food Review – “Making progress together”

Since the Hospital Food Review was published, with its eight recommendations to improve staff and patient health and wellbeing through hospital food, there has been significant progress, working in partnership with Trusts, FM Providers, and suppliers.

In his role as Senior Operational & Policy Manager – Soft FM, with NHS Estates and Facilities, Phil Shelley is responsible for the implementation of the recommendations. Working closely with Emma Brookes, Head of Soft FM Strategy & Operations, who also chairs the Healthcare Food Standards, provides the opportunity to ensure the recommendations actually happen as well as being incorporated in the standards. Phil, a Past Chair of the HCA, says: “We are both committed to hospital food improvement programmes, providing quality food for patients, staff and visitors.”

Phil and Emma have a three-year plan, but they generally accept that improving the service will be a continual process. As a result of COVID-19, the past 2 years have certainly affected everyone working in the NHS and Phil is aware that a stronger environment needs to be created for them. To do this, there needs to be strong leadership and involvement from a committed team that will take the review forward.

Phil continues: “What has been vital throughout conversations is understanding everyone’s perspectives, whether they are working in the NHS or providing the tools for our services. Having been chair of the HCA, I understand the importance of moulding our progress across the 4 nations. Each country is at a different stage throughout the services we provide, so sharing knowledge and experiences provide a distinct advantage. This has been particularly apparent with planning on food waste management, food standards documentation, 24/7 services and retail opportunities.

“The Expert Group has had 12 months to drive collaboration and positive changes in the area that they lead, in order to make a significant difference. I have been so impressed by their perseverance during such challenging times, determined to press on at pace with the balance of the day-to-day business to manage.

“Each expert group member has been set tasks that will involve the close teams in their specialty. For example, our dietetics member(s) will work not only with their professional body, the BDA, but with speech and language therapy colleagues and nutrition suppliers. The tasks will enable them to tell us what we should be doing, so it’s not just about us pushing the way forward but about listening to colleagues as well.”

The members of the Expert Group are already visiting hospitals to see what changes are taking place or need to happen to meet the review’s recommendations, with Emma and Phil monitoring progress and liaising with Government Ministers about any support and guidance required.

As well as the Expert Group, we now have 20 Exemplar Trusts (with the plan to have 30 in the coming months). They have been chosen to work with Phil and his team by sharing their good practice with other hospitals in their region and helping them move forward.

“It is important to recognise that these Exemplar Trusts don’t get everything right, but that they have made significant improvement in an area, and that is why they have been chosen,” says Phil. “It may be improvements in an aspect of patient catering or a 24/7 catering solution for staff, for example. A couple of Trusts have been chosen because their retail catering offer is strong. There is a lot that can be learnt from them because we must not lose sight of the fact that we need a much stronger business and commercial model in the NHS.

The Exemplar Trusts are brave, courageous, and innovative and are not frightened to make decisions. And that’s because they have support from their Trust Board and the hospital’s Chief Executive and Chief Nurse. It’s certainly easier to make decisions when you have that support, so the Expert Group want to go to sites and speak to the Trust Boards so that they understand what catering could be like if they support caterers, and we can understand where progress is being made and where the challenges are.”

Current areas of focus

Staff health and wellbeing is a massive focus of the food review, particularly over a 24/7 period, but Phil is conscious that there are other considerations to be aware of. “There’s sustainability, the obesity agenda, the National Food Strategy (part 2) and the Government Buying Standards which are planned for consultation in the spring of 2022. We also need to support the economic recovery post-COVID, the long-term plan to integrate health and social care together, and the need for the NHS to reduce its carbon footprint and have net zero emissions by 2040.

“Investment in IT and going digital is absolutely crucial in reducing our carbon emissions,” continues Phil. “The NHS has always been progressive around digital solutions, and catering must not be left behind. We also know that waste is an enormous area of concern – not just food waste but equipment waste as well.

I am proud of the partnership working with Defra, and our regular meetings have helped to align our planning with the National Food Strategy and Government Buying Standards for food and drink, encouraging the use of local industries. Every Trust should look at the dynamics of their region and how they can work with their local suppliers to use nutritious, sustainable British produce. This means engaging with farmers and local producers so you can provide patients with food from their region that you know they will enjoy.”

So, what next? Phil and the team understand the many necessary changes can’t all happen straight away, which is why there is a three-year work-plan. Phil explains: “We want to plant the seed for change and inspire everyone to make the changes happen, so there are short, medium and long-term plans being developed.

“I am very optimistic that progress can be made. I see so much pride and loyalty during our site visits: no matter what the situation, our caterers are proud of what they are trying to do. There is also an inner confidence and positivity in trying to seek a solution that is right for them.

We certainly need to be closer aligned across the whole of the public sector around care, nutrition, education, and innovation,” concludes Phil. “We can all learn from each other, we all have a voice, and the change we can make is in our hands. This is the NHS’ review, so it is our responsibility to take it forward. It is our opportunity to develop our services and see them flourish.”

Brian Robb, Honorary National Chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, agrees. “Seeing this from a four nations’ point of view, I can attest to the benefit of the whole public sector working together, especially during these uncertain times. The Association will continue its involvement with, and promotion of, the Hospital Food Review. It is crucial to offer patients and staff the right to nutritious and appetising meals. Food plays a vital role in the wellbeing of patients and staff alike, allowing them to perform better, recover quicker, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Exemplar Trusts

There are currently 20 Trusts that have been selected to be an Exemplar Trust, as follows:

  • East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust
  • Royal Berkshire NHS FT
  • Ashford & St Peters Hospital
  • Western Sussex Hospitals NHS FT
  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS FT
  • Royal United Hospital Bath
  • County Durham & Darlington Hospital
  • West Suffolk Hospital
  • West London NHS Trust
  • Royal Devon University Healthcare Trust
  • Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport
  • Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Shropshire
  • Guys & St Thomas’s Hospital
  • Royal Free Hospital
  • Royal Surrey Hospital
  • Airedale General Hospital
  • The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn NHS FT
  • Northern Care Alliance

To view the formal response to the Hospital Food Review click the button below.

View HCA response

Authors: Judith Lawton, Craig Smith FIH (Immediate Past HCA Chair and Board Member of the Independent Hospital Food Review), with interview contributions from Philip Shelley FIH.

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