Patients and hospital staff deserve better hospital food
Hospital food should be healthy and ecologically sustainable, but often it is not. A new report from Medact looks at how to drive the shift to sustainable diets in the NHS.
Every year, the NHS spends about £600 million on food and catering services, mostly in hospitals. But hospital food is often considered to be of poor quality, and the hospital retail environment unhealthy. Furthermore, in line with most diets across the country, the food provided in hospitals is not ecologically sustainable. There is an urgent need to improve hospital food for patients, staff and visitors.
Medact, a health charity which is part of the Eating Better alliance, says the NHS should be at the forefront of promoting healthier diets and hospitals should be health promoting institutes - that includes providing a food environment that is both healthy and sustainable for all those who encounter it. They have launched a campaign to encourage and drive change at local hospitals.
Medact is working with Sustain and the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, among others, to catalyse faster and greater improvements in the way hospital food is procured and provided. The aim is to promote healthier, more sustainable and ethical food production and consumption in and around hospitals. Unappealing food leads to high wastage and higher levels of malnutrition. There is evidence to show that better hospital food leads to shorter hospital stays and healthier, happier patients and staff.
But the food procured and served in hospitals also has wider social, economic and environmental impacts – which are themselves determinants of health. For example, a number of hospitals currently feature fast food outlets, selling foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt.
There is some progress at a national level, with the inclusion of legally binding hospital food standards in the NHS hospital commissioning contract. However, according to the Government's own findings, almost half of hospitals in England aren't meeting Department of Health basic standards. Medact says the greatest progress is happening at a local level, with a few hospitals leading the way by exceeding the new hospital guidelines and demonstrating how hospitals can procure and provide local and sustainably produced food. Nottingham and the North Midlands are two good examples.
To encourage more hospitals to get involved Medact has launched a report, Digesting the Indigestible, that maps out the policy and legal environment of hospital food and a toolkit aimed at encouraging and inspiring local hospital food campaigns.
If you are interested in improving the health and sustainability of your local hospital’s food environment, please get in touch with Medact.
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