What a difference 3 years makes – in 2014 hospital caterers focused almost exclusively on their role around patient food, but we have seen a fundamental awakening across all NHS trusts that healthy staff provide higher quality patient care. Thanks to the CQUIN on staff health and wellbeing, all NHS trusts are now working to the same guidelines, and we are seeing a shift away from the dominance of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt around checkouts and in promotions. Although the CQUIN is a great starting point, there is much more that can be done to create a great health-promoting food environment for staff and visitors in hospitals.Recently I have been out visiting and working with a number of trusts and noticing some fresh and innovative approaches worth sharing:
At The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust they have had great customer feedback in the ‘Choices’ restaurant on their new healthier range of snacks, including gluten free and vegan ranges. They have also changed the layout of the restaurant: healthier food, snacks and drinks dominate and have their own dedicated chillers. There is a very small selection of traditional confectionery, but this is hidden out of view. Hillingdon have also done a lot of work with suppliers to source new and interesting healthier product ranges and ran a successful Quorn challenge in January.
At North Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, holders of the Food for Life Catering Mark award for the staff restaurant, dishes are made fresh on site from unprocessed ingredients, using a wide range of local suppliers. NBT have added nutritional information to their menu, recently ran ‘eat well January’ with show cooking events and 25% discount on salads, have an engaging display of healthier eating information for staff and have recently added a fabulous herb garden to their restaurant terrace.
At St Andrews, a mental health charity with 4 hospitals around the country, inpatients also have access to cafes and restaurants at their Northampton site, so changes to the healthiness of their retail offering has a double benefit. Working with their dietitians they have reduced the price of healthier options by 10% and raised the price of less healthy options by 10% to incentivise a change in buying habits. They also now offer half portions of main dishes and offer fruit, including fruit pots for just 30p a portion.
With so much good practice out there, where are the blind spots? Staff still rarely have access to food that is good for health and sustaining if they work out of hours: the typical vending offer of diet drinks, lower fat crisps and smaller bars of confectionery just isn’t good enough. By this time next year we hope to see a shift in vending so that it becomes an integrated part of the food service offer supporting good health for all.