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A review worth its salt

Every day the NHS serves nearly 400,000 meals to patients.

But the way in which that food is produced, purchased, prepared and polished off by those patients varies greatly. This summer marked a low point for hospital catering when six patients died from listeria associated with pre-packed sandwiches from a national supplier.

Unsurprisingly, the incident prompted the government to take action, though it’s a pity the newly-announced review into hospital food became reactive instead of proactive.

However, while the review’s chair Philip Shelley acknowledged the listeria episode was undoubtedly a trigger for the review, he told HSJ “now is the right time” to carry out such a study both for the short and longer term.

The review is wide-ranging, but Daily Insight will be particularly interested to see how its recommendations affect the outsourcing market’s ability to eat up more NHS catering contracts.

Currently there is a 55-45 split between in-house and outsourced catering. That number has not moved significantly in the last decade.

The outsourcers have endured a tough time reputationally since the Carillion saga, but Daily Insight expects them to remain a serious player in the hospital food market – regardless of the review’s conclusion.

Our prediction is based on space for hospital kitchens frequently being traded for bigger patient-facing areas when designing new facilities, the high cost of labour involved that will be too much for many trusts to stomach, and the innovations which the private sector often has more capability to invest in and subsequently offer to its customers.

The big merger of Liverpool’s acute trusts has been cleared by the Competition and Markets Authority after just two months.

The CMA has proved an annoying blocker to transformation in the past, most notably in the NHS’ most drawn-out merger, between Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals Foundation Trust and Poole FT.

But approval of Aintree University Hospital FT’s acquisition of Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust was more or less a formality, with the regulator now recognising the role of competition in the NHS had been “dampened” by financial pressures.

In fact, the trusts felt confident enough to have already appointed a chair and chief executive to a joint shadow board for the new provider, which will be named Liverpool University Hospitals FT.

The transaction is now expected to complete in October.