Footprint Comment: HCA chair talks sustainability and hospital food

YOU WILL have recently seen that NHS Scotland has announced a ‘Masterchef Cook-off’ for chefs across the NHS in Scotland.

Foodservice Footprint IMG_3743-300x199 Footprint Comment: HCA chair talks sustainability and hospital food Comment Features  NHS Hospital Caterers Association HCA Andy Jones










The Hospital Caterers Association welcomes this; we welcome anything which brings out the skills of our chefs who are well trained to for ensuring that each day they provide good Nutritious and wholesome food for our Patients, Staff and Visitors.


Not only are they only just producing food, chefs in the NHS must not forget – they are saving patients’ lives. Patients rely on nutrition and hydration as part of their recovery plan and we would like this to be recognised and embedded into the NHS culture by all the clinical teams.


We all know that food is the best form of medicine and good, wholesome, nutritious food is all the patients want. They want food that is familiar to them, in essence, comfort food. Patients don’t want to be adventurous when they are admitted to hospital; they are looking for meals which are seasonal made from products they know and trust. Since the ‘horsemeat scandal’ of 2013 we are seeing patients ask, not for the ingredients of the dish, but for the origin of the meat or product.


We must rise to these challenges; as caterers and lead from the front. The primary cause of some of the poor food in hospitals, is not just down to poor ingredients or chefs ability, but in my view two key reasons are, when meals arrive on the wards they are often not served immediately thus the food starts spoil, the second is wrong menus or dishes being offered for what patients want to eat, ‘I was on recently on a elderly ward on a Friday where no fish dishes were being severed but sweet and sour Quorn with boiled rice was one of the dishes being offered. The menus must be developed with caterers and patients together, then nutritionally analysed to ensure that nutritional standards are met. However, what we cannot do is to put meals on the menu that are not nutritious or do not want to be eaten. Food which is not eaten is worthless. We understand that there is a health agenda, but in hospital it is about eating for good health and not about healthy eating. We hear a lot about obesity but there is a lot of malnourishment. We also hear a lot about food banks and again, this affects the local community. If we are not careful, we will go from obesity to a malnourished nation. It is possible to be obese and malnourished at the same time and we must not forget this.


We still can’t evade the issue that there are some poor standards out there, but we must work with the Trusts to improve the standards; we must welcome everybody into the HCA family (and yes, I call it a family, because that’s what it is). The hospital caterers must lead their service to ward level, assist the nurses to serve the patients at the bedside and then leave the nursing staff or the visiting relatives to assist the patient to eat. Who knows the patient better than a loved-one?


We have a reliance on the environment on food miles and we must buy food which is not only sustainable but seasonal. we must go away from descriptive menus. For example, why do we have apples, pears and bananas written onto menus when we all know, in the summer months, soft fruits. I am not advocating a total ban on out of season foods, but what I am saying is that we should work with the seasons in regard to fruit and vegetables. We should also look at the meat cycles as well as other products; when in season, let’s use them. Use products and dishes that patients want to eat. I have always used the mantra ‘It’s all about the patients’ and I will never go away from this.


We must not forget the staff and visitor feeding; the staff does a critical job and 50% of the food produced in hospitals is actually produced for the staff. This is an area where we can improve on healthy eating and where we can go down the sustainability route and local procurement. However, we must also balance it with a choice – and it is a choice. I agree; if we are going to have chips on the menu we must also ensure there is an alternative starch or potato product available as a healthier option. Where there are new potatoes on the menu don’t smother them in butter; serve the butter on the side so it is the customer’s choice if it is used or not. Why do we sell ‘duo’ bars of chocolate; single bars will do. But let’s make fruit and the local products cheaper than the dishes we run.


This Masterchef course is a chance to really make an impact on change and to focus on the people we serve each day. NHS Scotland are not the first to think of this; the HCA have had a Hot Cookery Course at Hotelympia (the Salon Culinaire, which is world-renowned) for many years now. We are the only public sector body to have this and we mustn’t forget that. Our criterion is exactly the same; sustainable fish within a price range to meet a patient’s meal – the food a patient wants to eat. This year’s winners and all runners-up produced those dishes. I thought it was ironic that the winner’s dish was basic; fish with jacket wedges. The dessert was so simple; it was rice pudding with Scottish strawberries. Now, what could be more appetising for the patients, but above all, more sustainable?