Hospital Caterers Association responds to London-centric hospital food report

Phil ShelleyThe Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) has responded to Sustain’s Taking the Pulse of Hospital Food report released today (23 March), which used London as a test case to “understand more about hospital food nationwide.”

Research was carried out by Campaign for Better Hospital Food, a Sustain project, with data collected from 30 of the 39 acute hospitals in the capital.

Phil Shelley, chair of the HCA, said: “The HCA campaigns strongly for collaboration with catering, clinical and dietetic teams, excellent quality of food and a service provision that must be joined together to maximise effectiveness for the patient and their recovery.

“The association represents all NHS catering across the four nations and believes London should not be considered as a benchmark for the rest of the UK.

“Although this report highlights some positive examples, it appears to give a narrow view of what services should be like and does not fully consider the constraints hospital caterers have to work under.

“The recommendations in the report - to cook fresh and on site and the pledge to bring that into law, bears no relevance to the financial constraints or actual infrastructure in place within hospitals. It also does not consider the strong government-led programme of private finance initiative (PFI) hospitals.”

Shelley added: “The report gives suggestions as to what hospitals and the NHS can do to address issues concerning food and by doing so it implies that hospitals have the power to implement specific changes, when in fact many of the decisions would have to come from the government.

“Buying only British food would have extreme cost implications for the NHS, and we would certainly welcome and support any suggestion that hospitals and catering departments should be provided with more resources, particularly financial, to support the delivery of nutritious food within hospital settings.”

“Our Last 9 Yards movement campaigns to bring all of catering back under the control of hospital caterers. This include the final delivery of food at the patient’s bedside, which currently is often not carried out by catering staff. It is disappointing to note that a small amount of hospitals in the sample are still delivering food in ready meal packaging, we would recommend food to be served, where appropriate, as it is at home on plates.

Feeding patients with a broad range of dietary requirements as the NHS does on a daily basis, means there are exceptions to this. For example some specially prepared meals such as Kosher must be protected from outside influence and are required to be presented in their original packaging. We would be interested in a detailed breakdown from Sustain on the types of meals they found to be presented in ready meal packaging”

At this year’s, HCA Leadership and Development Forum in Belfast next month, Shelley will officially launch the association’s own report which looks at hospital catering services across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The document titled NHS Patient Catering, UK – Four Nations Report, surveyed more than 400 branch members across some 266 NHS hospital Trusts, covering the style of catering being provided.

It looked at options such as cook-serve, cook-chill, cook-freeze or delivered in and whether food is being cooked in-house, contracted-out or a combination of the two.

Data collected by the HCA revealed that 47% of Trusts were found to operate exclusively in-house, while 28% operate exclusively out of house and 15% operate a combination of both. The research also found that only 10% of Trusts have their own central production unit.

In addition, the report reveals the principal concerns and challenges being faced by hospital caterers including cost cutting, NHS funding, staffing, out of hours’ services and food waste.”

Shelley added: “Our members have a strong desire to share best practice and work collaboratively to overcome the challenges we face in order to provide patients with the best possible care.

“Our members are working hard every day to deal with and overcome the challenges and constraints they are faced with in their differing environments.

“Even things like food purchasing can differ drastically throughout the four nations, with it being at Trust level in England and Northern Ireland and at national level in Scotland and Wales.”

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Katey Pigden
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