• Chair of the Hospital Caterers Association stresses sector’s reliance on stable prices
  • But adds he does not anticipate significant disruption to supply
  • MPs have voted against a no-deal Brexit, although prime minister has stressed it is still the “legal default”

The chair of a body representing hospital caterers has said there could be “some volatility” in the supply chain for patients’ food in the immediate aftermath of a no-deal Brexit.

Stewart McKenzie, chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, told HSJ he did not anticipate significant disruption to supply, but added: “It is an important factor for care caterers to be able to get the foods they need at stable prices but like everyone else we expect there to be some volatility in the short to medium term.

“However, our members will remain focused on the point of service and ensuring an enhanced meal experience for every patient is available.”

Speaking of preparations being made, Mr McKenzie said the association’s “national procurement colleagues have been working through the various scenarios to mitigate any potential impact on the supply chain”. He added that he expected more details to be released about suppliers’ contingency arrangements off the back of NHS England’s survey of major suppliers contingency plans and preparations.

A statement from the international trade secretary Liam Fox, published on Wednesday, revealed the UK would implement a temporary tariff regime for up to 12 months, including a mixture of tariffs and quotas for “beef, sheep meat, poultry, pig meat, butter and some cheeses”, if the UK were to leave the EU without a deal.

The statement explained the agricultural sectors have been “historically protected from non-EU producers through high EU tariffs” and “producers in these sectors would face significant adjustment costs should these be immediately liberalised”.

On Wednesday evening, the Commons rejected in principle the UK leaving the EU without a deal in place. However, the prime minister said after the vote: “The legal default in UK and EU law remains that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless something else is agreed.

Earlier this month, Richard Ring, the financial director of the food supplier Apetito, which supplies food to over 400 NHS hospitals and serves 33,000 NHS meals a day, told BBC Radio 4 his organisation could manage for eight weeks following a no-deal Brexit before there would be a “substantial reduction in the range” of food it can offer.

MPs also discussed the issue of public sector catering in the event of a no-deal Brexit in Westminster Hall earlier this month. Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West Sharon Hodgson, who brought the debate, said she was not optimistic “the food supply is secure enough to withstand a no-deal Brexit”. 

Responding on the government’s behalf, David Rutley, minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Department of Health and Social Care was “confident that its contingency plans for ensuring the seamless supply of products and services after we leave the EU are comprehensive and robust, and that food supply for patients will be protected in a no-deal scenario”.