The vast majority of hospital catering managers in England would like to see the introduction of mandatory standards for patient meals.
That's according to a new survey, which found that six out of 10 hospital caterers believe that the introduction of nutritional standards in Wales and Scotland has had a positive effect.
The findings are part of an August 2013 sounding by the UNISON union and the Campaign for Better Hospital Food. The survey was sent to the catering manager of all 723 hospitals in England, as well as to members of UNISON and the Hospital Catering Association for Great Britain. Only 65 completed surveys were returned, and 85% of those caterers who completed the survey work for the NHS and not for a private company providing catering at an NHS hospital.
Just over 94% of caterers in England said they wanted to see the introduction of mandatory standards in England, while 92% of caterers said that they had a responsibility to promote healthy eating in hospitals. However only half (53.8%) said that the hospital in which they are working has a healthy eating policy.
Only three of the 27 caterers who wanted to give more information about their hospital's healthy eating policy said that their policy was publicly available on the hospital Trust's website.
When it came to cooking methods, half of the respondents said they prepared and cooked their patient meals from scratch in their hospital's own on-site kitchen. For the remainder, 23.1% cook meals in a central production unit (CPU), while 23.1% cooked a combination of delivered meals and meals made in their on-site kitchen. A total of 4.6% cook meals delivered to them by contract caterers. These figures are not consistent with those of the NHS, which show that 40% of patient meals in England are delivered to hospitals by catering companies, while 33% are cooked in a hospital's own kitchen and 22% are made in a CPU.
The survey also highlighted that hospital caterers are not being given wider catering responsibilities, like responsibilities for serving meals to patients and buying ingredients from suppliers, while only 21% of caterers said their team was responsible for serving food to patients.
Commenting on the findings of the CBHF/Unison Report, Andy Jones, chair, Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) called for a mandatory minimum spend on all patient meals, as well as the mandatory standards the report called for. He said:
"Without doubt, nutritious and wholesome food is the simplest and best form of medicine and the therapeutic role of food within the healing process should not be under-estimated. Hospital caterers, as the survey found, are totally aware of the importance of their role and the contribution nutritious food has for patient wellbeing and recovery. Unfortunately, as the survey also found, there still needs to be far greater recognition of the nutritional value of food in the treatment of patients and as well as far more credence given to mealtimes by NHS Trust Boards as well as clinical and nursing staff".
"The HCA has been campaigning continuously for greater acknowledgement, by clinical teams and Trust Boards, of food being seen as integral to patient care and wellbeing as any medication and treatment. It is vitally important that all members of the clinical care team, as well as the Board, acknowledge the important contribution good nutrition can make to improving clinical outcomes.
"The HCA fully supports the Campaign for Better Hospital Food and welcomes the call for mandatory nutritional standards for patient food in England. However, in order for all hospitals across the country to achieve a national standard, it will be essential for a mandatory minimum expenditure on all patient meals to also be introduced. This needs to be linked to inflation and reviewed on an annual basis to ensure it is in line with the current cost of food".