Food & Nutrition

Back to all Motions

2006 Health Care Service Group Conference
22 April 2006

This Conference notes that the Health Services in all four countries of the UK have set standards in respect of the nutritional content of patient food. However it is recognised that beyond the basic minimum standards, assessment of an individual patient’s nutritional needs appears to be very inconsistent and in some cases non existent. Another flaw in the current approach is that measurement and analysis of nutritional content and palatability is normally made at the point of manufacture or in the laboratory and not at the point of delivery, namely when served to the patient.

There are currently different methods of delivering catering services such as externally provided cook chill/ cook freeze/plated systems and conventional on-site methods. The ability of a clinician to prescribe a suitable diet to individual patients can be all too easily compromised by the limitations inherent in external, pre-packed food provision. As new hospitals are often built without kitchens this situation will not be easily remedied. It should also be noted that external providers are inevitably from a private sector that puts profit margins rather than patient well-being at the top of their list of priorities.

Whilst UNISON welcomes the involvement of the Chief Nursing Officer (England) in the delivery of improved food standards in the NHS, we continue to have serious concerns surrounding the use of cook chilled food as part of the menu service offered in the NHS.

We have seen ground-breaking work undertaken by Jamie Oliver and London Schools in re-energising the meals offered to our children. We are delighted that there has been such a public reaction to the impact that diet has on a child’s health, development and therefore education. However, the impact of food and diet on a patient’s recovery, wound healing and nutritional state is equally significant. A healthy well-balanced diet helps all patients irrespective of their route of hospital admission.

Our catering and support staff play a vital role in food hygiene; they have extensive skills, which are not being utilised. They prepare the food for staff, which is served and consumed in the hospital canteens. Often patients and their relatives would rather go there to eat than consume the cook chilled food, which is offered as part of the menu service.

In addition to the flexibility afforded by food being prepared on site, it is generally fresh and there is a skilled team working from a well designed menu with the right equipment. However if no adequate nutritional assessment is in place and the delivery of the food service at ward level is poor, often due to cost cutting, then despite the best preparation the benefits of a well prepared meal can easily be lost and the patient will form a negative opinion of hospital food.

To remedy these flaws proper attention and resources should be targeted in this area including adequate funding and dedicated training for nursing and catering staff. Monitoring of nutritional content and quality must reflect standards as experienced by the patient.

It is ironic that a health service, which appears so committed to public health, acknowledges increased levels of obesity and the health associated risks, accepts fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King having outlets in hospital foyers. The NHS is failing patients by offering Big Macs and Whopper Burgers within the same center that we treat and care for patients who are symptomatic of heart failure and diabetes, conditions which can be attributed to and or exacerbated by obesity.

Conference believes that the number one priority governing NHS food should be its contribution to health and welfare of patients and staff. It is clear that within some health systems the driver for change is cost reduction and as a consquence the loss of NHS chefs. Conference congratulates UNISON Scotland on its Food for Good Charter which has been adopted by the Scottish Executive, and supports its healthy eating policy in their current Healthy Living Campaign. This positive ‘NHS Food for Good’ agenda is a 10-point charter addressing issues such as the privatisation of catering departments, fair trade and organics. The charter believes that NHS employers should be setting themselves targets, like sourcing by at least by 2007 the provision for patients and staff to have a daily option of an organic main meal.”

Conference calls on the Health Service Group Executive to:

1.Raise public awareness and the profile of this issue, including highlighting the dangers and limitations of externally prepared, private sector food provision.

2.Work with the national Nursing Sector, Ancillary Sector and the Department of Health to identify how improvements can be made to improve the nutritional standards of hospital food and how the essential role that catering staff play can be acknowledged

3.Work with regions and branches to identify where fast food chains are operating in hospitals within their areas. To identify when the contract is scheduled to end or be reviewed and actively challenge the trust under the health and well being of patients to not renew the contracts.

4.Write to the Secretary of State and Chief Nursing Officer expressing concern at the impact that a poor diet has on a patient’s health and well being.