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Food and drink in hospitals should complement public health messages from the NHS, recommends an independent panel.

Hospitals and other organisations need to support individuals in making healthier choices by the provision of healthier, tasty, affordable and sustainable options."
- Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.

NHS hospitals should develop and maintain a food and drink strategy to ensure the food offered to patients, staff and visitors is healthier, addresses the nutrition and hydration care of patients and is sustainable, according the Hospital Food Standards Panel.

In their report published today, the independent panel of experts led by Age UK Chairman Dianne Jeffrey have identified five ‘required standards’ that should become routine practice in all hospitals. The aim is to improve food and drink across the NHS, so that the entire hospital community has a healthier food experience and meals are enjoyable.

 

The new standards will require hospitals 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.

Patients will be assessed for malnutrition when they are admitted and there will also be a greater responsibility placed on staff to ensure patients are well-fed.

In an article on the report, Dianne Jeffrey commented:

“We believe the Hospital Food Standards Panel’s recommendations, if implemented, will ensure that food and drink in hospitals across the country will be tasty and nourishing and readily accessible to patients – making it more likely people will want to eat and drink and, consequently, get better faster.”

Embedding healthier eating for staff and visitors is a particular challenge, notes the report, with changes likely to take longer since the services offered by vending machines and on-site shops may not be under direct hospital control.

Leading work to address this particular challenge was Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, who commented:

“Dietary habits underpin the current rising obesity rates and associated chronic diseases. Hospitals and other organisations need to support individuals in making healthier choices by the provision of healthier, tasty, affordable and sustainable options. The food and drink that is available in hospitals should complement the public health message from the NHS.”

FoodHospitals are encouraged to do all they can, in partnership with their leaseholders and contractors, to make the healthier choice the easier choice and restrict the availability of less healthier options. The report recommends adopting the Government Buying Standard for Food & Catering to promote a balanced diet within staff canteens and outlines practical strategies to reduce salt, saturated fat and sugar intake.

Some hospitals already achieve compliance with the recommended standards. For example, at Royal Bolton Hospital high sugar drinks have been successfully restricted to only 330ml, and high-fat content crisps have been removed from vending machines, cafes and restaurants with restrictions on packet sizes to no larger than 30g. Trial projects are also set to begin to look at the impact of healthier vending policies on sales.

The development and implementation of a food and drink strategy, along with the five required standards, will be written into the NHS Standard Contract to ensure NHS Trusts across England and Wales act on the recommendations put forward by the Panel.

The Panel suggests measuring implementation via the annual Patient-Led Assessments of the Care Environment (PLACE). This will allow hospitals to demonstrate progress towards compliance, recognising that some will achieve full compliance more quickly than others.

Wendy Robinson, Head of Food services at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust welcomed the report, saying the hospital has worked hard over the past few years to improve standards, working with patients, the public, clinicians, dieticians and caterers. She commented:

“We are already doing well on most of these measures, but we are not complacent and our food policy continues to develop. Currently our food policy is focused on patient nutrition and providing patients with the food they need to help them recover whilst giving them plenty of choice. The next stage in developing our food policy will be to work with our public health team to see how we can also take the opportunity to promote healthier eating choices for our patients.”

View the original press release.