Poor quality hospital food is “undermining” the health of the NHS workforce, according to the results of a survey.
Nurses and other staff are surviving on fast food or on poor quality vending machine snacks, because hospitals are failing to provide proper facilities, according to the Better Hospital Food survey.
“An overhaul of NHS food is needed urgently and enforceable standards introduced”
The joint survey by Unison and the Campaign for Better Hospital Food found 29% of respondents often work night shifts yet almost half of hospital canteens close before 8pm, which limits staff access to healthy meals.
They said the survey – based on responses from nearly 4,000 NHS employees – also highlighted how patients were served unappealing food that often does not taste very good.
As a result, more than half of staff involved in the survey claimed they would not be prepared to eat the meals given to their patients themselves.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Healthy hospital food that is available around the clock is essential for dedicated staff who are working night shifts caring for patients.
“Yet nurses and other NHS workers often have no choice but to resort to meals that are high in salt, fat and sugar,” he said.
“Both staff and patients deserve better,” he said. “An overhaul of NHS food is needed urgently, and enforceable standards introduced so that hospitals can be held to account if they breach them.”
Unison has been a long-time supporter of canteens based on NHS sites and has campaigned against the increasing trend towards ready prepared food being brought in by private companies.
Last month, NHS England launched a £600m funding scheme aimed at improving the health of its staff.
As part of the scheme, money will be given to NHS organisations that take steps to reduce junk food and obesity in the workplace.
To qualify, they will be required to remove adverts, price promotions and checkout displays of sugary drinks and high fat sugar and salt food from their premises.
They will also have to submit information on their fast food franchise, vending machine and retail outlet contracts in preparation for the proposed NHS 20% “sugar tax” expected to be introduced from April 2017.
Campaign for Better Hospital Food policy officer Katherine Button said: “We welcome NHS England’s latest health and wellbeing targets as a positive step in the right direction.
“We now need to build on this momentum to put the focus on hospital retailers and suppliers to ensure that staff working hard for patients have access to healthy meals and snacks 24 hours a day,” she said.
The survey was carried out in March 2016 and received 3,650 responses from staff. The majority were based in hospitals.
The survey results were released on Wednesday, the last day of Unison’s annual health conference in Brighton.