Call for legally-binding hospital food standards

HOSPITAL CATERING standards have come under fire in a damning new report published today.


The assessment, entitled “Twenty years of hospital food failure: Why we need mandatory standards, not more ineffective voluntary initiatives”, concluded that £54 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on 21 “failed” voluntary initiatives to improve food. Warnings from MPs, NGOs and commercial caterers that the projects were failing were also ignored.


The report, published by Sustain as part of its “campaign for better hospital food”, concludes that legally-binding standards are now required. The proposal has been backed by a coalition of 89 organisations and celebrity chefs. The Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) also supports the idea, but insists that cost could be prohibitive.


Over the past 20 years, successive governments have tried a range of voluntary schemes to improve hospital health; a number of these have been led by celebrity chefs including, Albert Roux, John Benson-Smith, Mark Hix, Anton Edelmann and Heston Blumenthal. The journalist and broadcaster Loyd Grossman also ran one.


“My team and I worked hard for five years to improve patient meals but progress was much slower than we would have liked,” said Grossman. “Although we had a number of successes, we did not achieve the transformation which we had hoped for and which patients deserve. While I could see what needed to be done and what could be done, our efforts were hampered by a lack of political will.”


Now Grossman and Roux have joined growing support for mandatory rather than voluntary hospital food standards, similar to the compulsory nutritional standards in schools. The call comes just days after the Academy of Royal Colleges, which represents Britain ’s 220,000 doctors, also announced its public support for mandatory standards for hospital food in all UK hospitals.


Roux said that if anything has been learned from the initiatives of the past it is that meetings, speeches and gimmicks do not work – what we need now is change to the whole hospital food system, starting with the introduction of food standards for every patient meal. We must not think that high quality hospital food is too difficult or expensive to achieve,” he added.


While the HCA said it supported legally-binding minimum food standards, cost is a barrier. A spokeswoman said: “Those hospital caterers having to conform to £2.50 per patient per day will not be able to meet the standards in the same way as those who have, for example, £6.50 per day for patient food.”


The HCA estimates that the daily food cost allowance, in order to meet one set of standards for all, could not be any lower than £4.00 per patient per day and would also have to be set as a minimum and compulsory food cost standard.


Health Minister and former NHS hospital doctor Dan Poulter agreed that schemes that rely on celebrity chefs have not worked in the past, but remained confident in the voluntary schemes currently available:  “We believe that the best decisions on hospital food are those taken locally by chefs and catering managers rather than having centrally imposed standards.”


He also highlighted a new assessment scheme run by patients as part of the new principles for hospital food announced in October.


Public sector catering has come under close scrutiny in the past few weeks. The horse meat scandal has raised questions about the quality of food served in hospitals and schools, with one supermarket chief having suggested it is the public sector and its caterers that are driving the market for cheap food.