Better hospital food on the menu

We’ve all had times where we’ve been unwell and not felt like eating, especially as a hospital inpatient, or when we have reached for unhealthy food when we are busy, tired or stressed at work. But a nutritious meal can have a profound impact both on our mental and physical health and on our ability to recover from illness or surgery.

The NHS is one of the largest providers of food and drink services in the country, providing over 199 million meals per year for patients, staff and visitors, but we know that catering in hospitals is not always as good as it could be.

As part of the Independent Review of Hospital Food (2020), which Phil chaired, recommendations highlighted the need for updated food and drink standards to ensure that patients, staff and visitors have good quality, healthy, nutritious food options, wherever they are in the country.

That’s why we’ve worked with an expert panel of caterers, nurses, doctors, dietitians, and 20 exemplar Trusts to develop eight new National Standards of Hospital Food for patients, staff and visitors, that all NHS organisations will be legally required to meet as part of the NHS Standard Contract.

All organisations subject to the NHS Standard Contract will be required to deliver against the following standards, which build on work that is already underway across the country:

  1. Organisations must have a designated board Director responsible for food (nutrition and safety) and report on compliance with the Healthcare Food and Drink Standards at Board Level as a standing agenda item.
  2. Organisations must have a Food and Drink Strategy.
  3. Organisations must ensure that they have access to appropriate catering dietetic advice and support.
  4. Organisations must have a nominated food safety specialist.
  5. Organisations must invest in a high calibre workforce, improved staffing and recognise the complex knowledge and skills required by chefs and food service teams in the provision of safe food and drink services.
  6. Organisations must be able to demonstrate that they have an established training matrix and a learning and development programme for all staff involved in healthcare food and drink services; and
  7. Organisations must put steps into place to monitor their food waste, manage any waste produced and take action to reduce the food waste produce for plate waste, production waste and unserved food.
  8. Organisations must have suitable food and drink solutions for all staff over a 24/7 service period.

What do the Standards mean for patients and staff?

These Standards mean that NHS staff and patients will be able to access nutritious food and drink at any time of day and night, every day of the week. All NHS organisations will have access to dietetic expertise to better support patient recovery and general health.

The Standards also include measures to ensure the quality, safety and sustainability of food provision, and reduction of food waste, to patients, staff and visitors across acute, mental health and community settings.

How will they be implemented?

The standards aim to inspire and drive cultural change and reform within NHS organisations, embedding better hospital food into the life of the hospital with strong board-level leadership, so that food is prioritised and treated as the integral part of patient care and services for staff.

This is not one size fits all – there is flexibility for organisations to implement the Standards in a way that is appropriate and achievable within their local context.

The great news is that around 60% of Trusts in England are already compliant with the standards or in a good position to be.

We’re seeing some great examples already, including at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, where they have implemented fresh cook patient and staff menus with excellent 24/7 facilities. A team of chefs from ELHT were worthy winners of the first NHS Chef 2021 competition, showing the high standards of food available at the Trust.

Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has built a Central Production Kitchen, which prepares 3000 meals each day for patients across their sites. The state-of-the-art kitchen means the Trust’s chefs can prepare and store fresh meals in a safe and efficient way, reducing food waste and getting great feedback from patients.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has demonstrated the value of having a dietician within the catering team as an enabler for strong connections between patients, ward staff and catering teams. This dietetic leadership has informed the Food and Drink Strategy to prioritise a menu with a range of meals to suit the varying cultural, lifestyle and dietary needs of patients, staff and visitors as well as improving 24/7 services.

These standards will build on the good work already happening in many organisations to ensure that patients, visitors and staff can receive a good, healthy meal when they enter a hospital, wherever they are in the country.

Read more about the Standards on the NHS England website.

Phil Shelley

Philip Shelley – Senior Operational & Policy Manager
Philip was the Chair of the NHS Review of Hospital Food that was announced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. His role at NHS England covers a range of topics within Soft Facilities Management, including the leadership of the Food Review recommendations, cleanliness and linen management. Having served as National Chair of the Hospital Catering Association, he proactively drives collaboration between fellow organisations such as the British Dietetic Association, Health Estates and Facilities Management Association and Malnutrition Task Force, with the aim to strengthen a holistic approach to catering services for patients, staff and visitors in healthcare. He has been acknowledged with the Public Sector Catering Award in 2018 and the Outstanding Service Award in 2020 by the Hospital Catering Association. He is also an ambassador for Love British Food, Guardians of Grub, and the Spearmark Hydration Droplet.

Emma Brookes

Emma Brookes – Head of Soft FM Strategy & Operations

Emma has been with the Estates and Facilities team at NHS England since the end of July 2017. Emma is responsible for policy and strategy development for soft facilities services across the NHS in England, with a portfolio which includes cleaning, catering, portering, security and linen and laundry.

Emma holds a master’s degree in Healthcare Leadership and has a career which spans 28 years in the world of Facilities management 19 of which have been in the NHS as both a provider and a direct employee and has led projects including National Standards for Healthcare Cleanliness, Provision of non-sterile PPE during the height of the Covid pandemic, EU exit preparations, NHS Chef competition and the National Standards for Healthcare Food.