Some hospitals are failing to provide patients with high quality and healthy meals, the health secretary has warned.
Jeremy Hunt said that while some organisations were delivering decent food and drink for patients, others are “falling short”.
The government has announced a fresh drive to improve hospital nutrition including clear directions for hospitals on reducing fat and salt, including more fruit and vegetables on the menu and making sure food is bought in an environmentally sustainable way.
Eight clear principles the NHS must follow for patient food have also been drawn up (see below), and new patient-led hospital inspections are to carried out to make sure these principles are followed and standards improve.
Mr Hunt said that the “culture of care” across the NHS is a “top priority” of his.
“Patients should be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “They have the right to expect food that is of high quality and healthy - and that it has been prepared in a clean kitchen.
“There are lots of hospitals already doing this, but in some places, the NHS falls short. Patients deserve the highest standards, and by making sure they lead the inspections, we will put their experience at the heart of improving the NHS.”
British Dietetic Association honorary chair Helen Davidson, added: “The potential for good nutrition to improve hospital care is huge.
“Malnutrition should not be, but is, a very real and current problem within the UK population that needs urgent attention. Improving hospital food is part of the solution.”
Age UK, the Patients Association and the Royal College of Nursing teamed up with the government to drive up standards.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Hospital food can often have a very significant impact on the speed of recovery, susceptibility to infection and mental and physical well-being.
“Hospital food doesn’t just need to be healthy - it also needs to be fresh and enticing enough to tempt patients who may not feel hungry.
“Giving patients the ability to choose their food is a welcome move, which already works well at many hospitals.”
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, added: “Patients tell our helpline that high quality nutrition is an essential ingredient in improving their care and outcomes. But it is equally important that support from health professionals accompanies these changes so that vulnerable and elderly patients, such as those with dementia, experience the full benefits.”
One trust has introduced menus which show pictures of food to help elderly patients and those with dementia pick out their preferences.
Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust said that a trial of the picture menus saw a drastic increase in the amount of food being eaten by older patients.
Janice Gillan, chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, welcomed the new standards. She said: “Food is the simplest form of medicine and is as integral to patient care and wellbeing as medication and treatment.
“There is clear medical evidence showing that good nutrition can help with the prevention or reduction of certain hospital acquired health conditions such as bed sores and a more personalised approach to nutritional care can improve patient wellbeing, aid recovery and accelerate discharge as well as help meet targets for reducing NHS costs.”
The eight “fundamental food principles” are:
- Nutritious and appetising hospital food and drink is essential;
- Patients get a choice from a varied menu – including meals suitable for religious needs;
- All patients should have access to fresh drinking water at all times, unless it contradicts clinical advice;
- Food and drink should be available at all times, not just planned mealtimes;
- Hospitals should promote healthy diets to staff and visitors;
- The Government Buying Standards for Food should be adopted as standard whenever possible;
- Hospitals should regularly check with patients if their food is up to scratch and act on feedback; and
- The NHS as a whole should look for and reward excellence in hospital food.