Andy Jones throws down a challenge to trust chief executives not to walk a thousand miles in their patients’ shoes but to share their culinary experiences for a week…

Andy jones

Andy Jones

Andy Jones

One area that always seems to “light up” media and social media is hospital food! To me as a facilities specialist and past chair of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) it’s an area that we all have to focus on more, after all – Food is the Best Form of Medicine.

Take a cue

One trust in Ottawa, Canada, took up the challenge and this is the reason for the recent media flurry. The senior management team ate nothing but hospital food for seven days, giving them a better understanding of the complexities involved, how hard the catering teams work and the importance of good food in the care and recovery of the patients.

It resulted in change, investment in food budgets and training standards for the catering teams

The outcome was remarkable: instead of what many thought would be a tick box exercise, it resulted in change, investment in food budgets and training standards for the catering teams, one of which is at the ward end of the service.

The Hospital Food Plan (HFP), which is now embedded in NHS England’s contract, ensures all trusts have a food strategy in place to reflect the HFP and that a member of the board is responsible for this and reported every six months. So we have it right up there at the top.

Some trusts have really taken the plan and invested in the food and drink service and taken the mantra Eating for Good Health as one of its core ethos. However, we still see media reports on poor food and drink.

So here’s a challenge, can we get a trust’s CEO and/or senior teams to eat patients’ food for seven days – or better still for the length of the menu cycle – and feed back to HSJ the findings and any changes that they will make?

Showing commitment

The ideal situation would be similar to prisons where all the food is sampled daily before it’s served, this could be done by say senior matron, catering supervisor, dietitian and patient? Also to see the food served at ward level. That would show commitment and develop a platform to ensure changes happen if needed.

Some small changes you could make today have patient food including drinks served at the following

  • Board meetings
  • Inductions

High on agenda

Why should food and drink be high on a trust’s agenda when trust have more pressing issues and after all it should be right. Well, what Canada has found by investing in food more is that it can reduce costs of medicines, reduce length of stays, reduce the need for food supplements (in some cases they are needed for medical reasons), reduce readmissions, reduces waste, including plate waste, enhances recovery, enhance morale, reduces turnover – and many more.

If we have good food and drink, then patients will go home quicker well-nourished and likely not to be readmitted again

We know people arrive at hospital with many issues, and one of the concerns is malnutrition, which needs good food and drink to assist the medical care. If we have good food and drink, then patients will go home more speedily, well nourished and likely not to be readmitted again – all saving the trust finance pressures, short and long term.

One area I am passionate about is the ward end service as often this is where good food can be spoilt. We have seen protected meal times work well and not so well!

So what is needed is MealTimes Matters, which says what it is! Ensuring staff are ready for service, patients are made ready for meals, a loved one or carer or dining companion.

Finally, as you start your week-long eating of the patients’ food with your catering team or nutritional link nurse, are they members of the Hospital Caterers Association) this is the only professional association which represents caterers and hospital food in the UK; it drives standards and training. The review should encompass that they join the HCA.

Andy Jones, immediate past chair, Hospital Caterers Association