Health secretary introduces new measures for mealtimes
Hospitals in England will now be expected to provide a higher standard of meals, under new guidelines enforced through legally binding NHS contracts.
The new standards are said to focus on quality, choice and promoting a healthy diet for both patients and staff, with hospitals also ranked on the quality of the meals they prepare. Other factors hospitals will be ranked against include the choice of the food available, whether the menu has been approved by a dietitian, the availability of fresh fruit and food in between mealtimes, the cost of the food, and the variety of options served at breakfast, which should feature warm food. These rankings will then be published on the NHS Choices website.
Hospitals will be required to provide:
- Fish twice a week
- Seasonal produce
- Tap water
- Cooked rice, potatoes and vegetables without salt
- Half of all desserts should be fruit
- Half of tea and coffee should be Fair Trade
Improving food standards
Food will be becoming a focus for hospitals, as patients will be assessed for malnutrition on arrival, and staff will face greater responsibility to ensure patients are well fed. The chairman of charity of Age UK, Dianne Jeffrey told BBC News “When a person is in hospital they are in a very vulnerable state. It’s very important that the food is attractive, it’s appetising, it’s palatable, it’s nutritious, it meets the cultural and social needs of patients and also meets their clinical needs.”
The Campaign for Better Hospital Food however is skeptical about the new standards, believing they will be difficult to enforce. Alex Jackson, the campaign’s co-ordinator said “We want to see hospital food standards set down in legislation, similarly to school food standards, and therefore universally applied to all hospitals and protected by publicly elected representatives for generations to come. But the government still refuses to do this and has only committed to including the standards in NHS commissioning contracts, which are long documents full of clauses that without proper enforcement and monitoring can be ignored by hospitals. The government may have inserted a new clause in a legal document, but that won’t be what most people consider to be legally-binding. It’s woefully inadequate.”
The chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, said “It is time for the NHS set a clear example in providing healthier food for our patients, visitors and also our hard-working staff. That’s why NHS England has agreed to include hospital standards in the next NHS Contract, which will be published later this year.”