Hospital food provision must be built around the needs of patients and not the NHS, according to speakers at this year's Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) conference.
Delivering the keynote speech at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole hotel, Elizabeth Jones, head of patient environment at the Department of Health, said the change in emphasis was the logical next step for hospital catering.
"Over the next few years I believe we will see a great shift away from central Government diktats towards a patient-led service," she said.
She said this included the use of more local food, greater flexibility around mealtimes and more attention to individual diets and tastes.
Her view was supported by HCA chairman Alison McCree (above), who said the move was obvious given that the nutritional targets of the Better Hospital Food programme had now been "largely achieved".
"Hospital caterers are endeavouring to establish improvements in food service and delivery to enhance mealtime experience at ward level," she said.
Both Jones and McCree predicted that, as catering became more tailored to patients' requirements, it would play a crucial role in the rehabilitation process, by increasing comfort levels.
John Rostrill, chief executive of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Catering will become increasingly part of total patient care. Promoting food in the place of supplements will also be very cost-effective."
But the HCA believes there is still a long way to go, citing the fact that 60% of patients are malnourished when admitted to hospital. It will launch a good practice guide later this month to ensure the pivotal role of food service in hospitals.
Waldegrave is new HCA president
Lady Caroline Waldegrave is the new president of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA).
Her appointment to the voluntary role, announced at the HCA conference, sees her replace Lord Hunt.
Waldegrave is a cookery writer for the Daily Mail and has appeared as a judge on the BBC show Masterchef. She began her career as a cook at catering company Leiths Good Food and is now co-owner of Leiths School of Food and Wine.
She said: "It is essential that hospital catering and good, quality food continues to be given priority and that it is seen as an integral part of patient care."
By Tom Bill
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