The Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith acted as an advisor on the review © Getty Images
The Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith acted as an advisor on the review © Getty Images

How buyers can improve hospital food

Hospitals should focus on quality over cost for hospital food to address the “enormous inconsistency” in purchasing practices and understanding of sustainability, an Independent Review has said. 

The report, published by the Independent Review of NHS Hospital Food, said previous government initiatives to encourage public sector bodies to purchase food in a sustainable way had “proved difficult to translate at local level”.

As part of its recommendations, the review said a 40% cost, 60% quality split should be mandated across NHS England for the procurement of food and all catering services.

It also called on purchasers to use the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' Plan for Public Procurement: Food and Catering: the Balanced Scorecard to assess their procurement and catering practices. 

The scorecard allows buyers to evaluate straightforward criteria such as cost against more complex criteria like “health and well-being, resource efficiency and quality of service”.

New NHS food standards, which are currently under review, would set guidelines including “mandatory procurement standards along with the tools to support implementation”, the report said. 

The review, chaired by Taunton & Somerset NHS FT facilities manager, Phil Shelley, with celebrity chef and Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith as an advisor, was established last year to make recommendations on how NHS trusts can prioritise food safety and provide more nutritious meals to both staff and patients.

As part of its recommendations, the review called for an “expert group” with representation from across the sector and government to oversee hospital performance and progress in line with the recommendations.

It added that recent moves by NHS Supply Chain to single deliveries would “inevitably reduce innovation and potentially the quality of hospital food”. 

The expert group would monitor this area and may want to “consider the role of NHS Supply Chain as the nominated supplier of food to the NHS, and the benefits and drawbacks of bulk-buying as compared with more local procurement”, the report said. 

Also, the review called for NHS trusts to agree a common method of recording and monitoring food waste and for food waste minimisation plans to be rolled out.

These moves are intended to address “enormous inconsistency with purchasing high-quality products, understanding the role of sustainability and managing food waste”, the review stated.

Food safety was also explored after seven people died as the result of a listeria outbreak linked to a sandwich supplier last year. 

The report added that purchasers must have an effective mechanism in place to assure food safety within their supplier base and drive improvements where necessary.

This could be achieved by ensuring “open and speedy communication channels” between auditors, local authorities, Public Health England, Food Standards Agency, suppliers and trusts, and mandated reporting procedures for food safety concerns for trusts and suppliers must be established, with penalties for not reporting issues. 

Leith said: “The review provides best-in-class examples of how hospitals can serve delicious, nutritious and nicely presented meals on a budget.

“Food is not only important to health, but to morale. Hospital mealtimes should be a moment of enjoyment and a pleasure to serve. They should inspire staff, patients and visitors to eat well at home."

Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, said: “Good food could be game-changing in turning the tide on poor-quality food being served across English hospitals, but only if the recommendations are implemented in full.

“It’s time food standards were regulated with monitoring and inspections to ensure good practice. It will be brilliant to see hospital trusts using their buying power to support British farmers and enable environmentally sustainable food production.”

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