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Digesting the indigestible - Unravelling hospital food policy and practices, and finding the way towards healthier, tastier and more sustainable hospital food

  • Published on March 4, 2022

This report examines mandatory policies and voluntary recommendations governing hospital food, and systems of monitoring and accountability. The report also explores financial levers and pressures, and the influence of private and commercial outlets on hospital food provision.

By describing the complex influences and processes that shape the procurement and provision of hospital food and drink, and providing recommendations for improvement, this report aims to help clinicians, patient groups and other stakeholders to catalyse changes that will lead to the provision of health supporting and sustainable hospital food. With an improved understanding of these factors, advocacy groups will be in a better position to make informed, impactful recommendations.

Analysing the National Health Service and its food and catering services, the report highlights the key role that those services play not only in terms of costs but also as a driver to the transition towards healthier and more ecologically sustainable diets across society. Indeed, the authors take into consideration all the economic, social and environmental improvements that could be gained in making decisions about hospital food and drink: in this way, the collective well-being of patients undergoing treatment, its staff, and the wider communities can benefit from sustainable management of those food services. Healthy and sustainable diets in hospitals can also impact the long-term health of the environment, reducing its footprint. Then, the report illustrates the NHS Standard Contract to commission hospital services according to Hospital Food Standards Report: it requires to develop a Food and Drink Strategy that incorporates Five Mandatory Standards and is compliant with the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 with the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 which requires all public bodies to incorporate economic, social and environmental considerations when procuring services. Also, there are several voluntary recommendations which hospitals can follow to improve their social and environmental standards. However, many problems and deficiencies are affecting policies and requirements. For this reason, the report outlines six key recommendations for improving the provision of hospital food: streamline standards and guidance to close gaps and improve understanding. For instance, none of the present mandatory standards require hospitals to reduce the volume of meat and dairy they provide. Secondly, improve implementation and compliance, considering that the failure to develop a robust monitoring system has contributed to ineffectual attempts to improve hospital food and drink. Then, strengthen incentives: greater financial rewards should be attached to meeting Commissioning for Quality and Innovation in Hospitals targets, they should be mandatory and should be accompanied by a larger sanction should they not be met. Also, expand the provision of freshly cooked, nourishing and appetising food as an important part of patient care and recovery. Moreover, set clearer and better budgets. Finally, regulate the private sector with mechanisms that enforce private companies and food providers to comply with the required actions.




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