Hospital staff could be banned from an NHS foundation trust restaurant under plans by one of the FT’s private finance initiative partner companies, HSJ has learned.

Interserve Facilities Management has also appeared to walk away from negotiations with Dudley Group FT to make changes to its catering services, according to a report to the trust board.

Sources told HSJ there have been growing tensions between the company and the trust.

Colchester catering

Interserve, which manages Dudley Group FT’s restaurant, has appeared to walk away from negotiations

The private company, which runs the hospital restaurant, is considering banning hospital staff who do not buy food from eating there. The trust has confirmed to HSJ that it was a “commercial decision”.

No final decision has been made over the potential ban but the idea comes as the company and the trust have clashed over planned changes to catering services on hospital wards, which are also delivered by Interserve.

In November Dudley Group asked Interserve to launch new menus and invest £500,000 in heated trolleys because patients had commented on the temperature of their food.

Interserve demanded access to the trust’s wifi service in order for its staff to use an electronic tablet to process meal orders and refused to implement new menus without this. The FT wanted to charge the company for access, and the trust board was told the company’s response was not “in a positive manner”.

Although ensuring the correct temperature of food is a contractual requirement, Interserve has successfully argued there is a lack of support from ward staff during mealtimes which slows down the delivery of food.

HSJ understands that while the trust believed there has been contractual failings - identified through patient questionnaires - ward staff are not recording them. The trust has also chosen not to apply “deficiency points” or warning notices, except for serious breaches.

The trust has now agreed to carry out a ward by ward assessment of what staffing is required to assist at mealtimes and is planning a better system for staff to record where the catering service is failing.

A report to the trust board last month said: “Relatively little progress [has been] made by PFI partners around the new menus and heated trolleys.”

It also said that despite the new service being earmarked for launch in February, the heated trolleys would not be available as requested in November “due to limitations in the PFI contract”.

The report added: “Interserve has withdrawn from all catering negotiations.”

In a statement, trust chief executive Paula Clark said Interserve had had “preliminary discussions with the trust about asking staff to eat elsewhere if they are not purchasing food from the restaurant. Nothing formal has been agreed.”

She said the trust had other places for staff to eat and that the trust meets regularly with its PFI partners to “discuss all aspects of the contract including our joint efforts to improve patient nutrition and hydration”.

Ms Clark said: “Interserve has not refused to engage in negotiations.”

The trust said its PFI partners were not refusing to make changes to catering services.

Interserve declined to comment.