Hospital trusts must provide healthy eating options for their staff as well as patients, under new rules on food quality in NHS organisations.
Mandatory NHS food standards were announced on Friday by the Department of Health, as part of the latest drive to raise the quality of nutrition in healthcare settings.
“I believe these recommendations will help busy hospital staff make sure patients get appetising and nutritious food”
Hospital trusts will have to comply with five legally-binding food standards, which will be added to the NHS Standard Contract for provider organisations.
These include screening patients for malnutrition, ensuring they have a food plan, and taking steps to ensure patients get the help they need to eat and drink.
In addition, hospital canteens must promote healthy diets for staff and visitors, and the food on offer must comply with government recommendations on salt, saturated fats and sugar.
For the first time, hospitals will also be ranked on the NHS Choices website for the quality of their food.
The changes were recommended in a report written for the government by an independent panel of 22 experts from the fields of health, food and the environment.
As well as the mandatory standards, it recommended that all NHS hospitals should develop and maintain a food and drink strategy. This should include the “nutrition and hydration needs of patients” and “healthier eating for the whole hospital communityfff, especially staff”.
The panel was led by Dianne Jeffrey, chair of the charity Age UK. Nursing representatives included Liz Evans, a specialist nutrition nurse at Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust, Lyn McIntyre, representing the Royal College of Nursing, and Marie Batey, from the nursing directorate at NHS England.
Ms Jeffrey said: “We know malnourished people will take longer to recover and suffer from more complications. No hospital can afford to neglect this essential part of their care.
“I believe these recommendations will help busy hospital staff make sure patients get appetising and nutritious food that they want to eat and are given the help they need to do so,” she said.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt added: “We want to know that all patients have nourishing and appetising food to help them get well faster and stay healthy, which is why we’re introducing tough new mandatory standards for the first time ever.”
“Hospitals must make sure they have sufficient numbers of suitably trained staff available”
Commenting on the new rules, RCN executive director Janet Davies described good hospital food as “one of the cornerstones of good patient care”.
But she said: “Many hospital patients need help to eat, for example, it can take up to 45 minutes to assist someone with dementia to eat even a small meal.
“Hospitals must make sure they have sufficient numbers of suitably trained staff available to deliver this care and assistance for every patient that needs it,” she said.