Sustain’s Campaign for Better Hospital Food wants mandatory standards for patient meals in England. In this guest post, Alex Jackson from Sustain explains why voluntary measures are not working.
Most of the food served in the UK’s public sector has to meet nutritional and quality standards, including school food, and food served in government departments, prisons, and Scottish and Welsh hospitals. Surely it’s time for English hospitals to join the gang?
Last week the Campaign for Better Hospital Food published a report called ‘Twenty years of hospital food failure’, which found that the Westminster government has spent more than £50m on 21 failed voluntary initiatives to improve hospital food since 1992, appointing numerous celebrities and celebrity chefs along the way.
Despite this lavish expenditure – enough to build 34 new state of the art hospital ‘super-kitchens’ – patient meals remain as bad as ever. Today, one in every 10 patient meals are thrown in the bin uneaten and the nutritional quality of hospital ready meals is often poorer than the food you would get in a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC.
Approximately two thirds of NHS staff say they wouldn’t eat the food they serve to patients.
The need for mandatory standards
I believe that these voluntary initiatives have failed because they are entirely ignorable, created to make it feel and sound like something is being done, and to make a short-lived splash in the media. It’s time for government to ditch the voluntary approach and instead introduce mandatory hospital food standards for patient meals in England.
Mandatory standards would require hospitals to serve, for example, more fruit and vegetables. Patient meals would contain healthier amounts of salt and saturated fat, as well as fresh, seasonal ingredients grown using less oil and water and without damaging soil and biodiversity. Hospital kitchens would use more produce from the best British farmers and only fish which is certified to be sustainable.
This would drive up quality standards, but also ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent on hospital food that does good – for our health, for the environment, for our economy, and for animal welfare, to name but a few – rather than harm.
The government currently opposes the introduction of mandatory standards for hospital food, and says that local people are best placed to influence what hospitals serve to patients. Which local people are we talking about here? Surely not the ones who may be unconscious, elderly, upset, very ill or having an operation? Shouldn’t we be caring for them? And putting good food at the heart of compassionate care?
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Alex Jackson, co-ordinator for the Campaign for Better Hospital Food. All opinions expressed here are Alex’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.