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Shining a light on the Hospital Food Standards


Russell Blake, Managing Director – Healthcare, Compass Group UK & Ireland

The NHS has implemented new National Standards of Hospital Food for patients, staff, and visitors under its NHS Standard Contract, published in November 2022.

“The publication of the National Standards for Food and Drink in Healthcare has been a welcome addition to the Independent Review of NHS Hospital Food, released in 2020. We have been working closely with NHS England to focus and contribute to the standards – not only through one of our dietitians being part of the working group, but also our involvement in the highly valuable work of the NHS Chef of the Year competition and the Trusts we partner with.

The new standards once again give us all an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of food and nutrition in aiding and caring for patients in hospitals across the NHS, as well as supporting staff and visitors. This framework is putting food higher on the agenda, whilst also setting consistent standards, tracking progress and compliance, as well as taking a more sustainable approach.

There is no doubt, we are dealing with a complex network of hospitals within the UK, catering for a wide variety of needs and all to a very limited budget. The standards highlight that hospitals need to have food high on their agenda.  

It is widely acknowledged that food has a huge impact on our wellbeing, especially in relation to NHS patients. However, importantly the new standards also emphasise the need for quality provision across staff and visitor catering – again critically important to the clinical team who deliver care, especially shift workers and for those coming to hospitals, who need energy and comfort.

We operate hundreds of retail outlets and staff and visitor restaurants within hospitals and we believe it is right not only to focus on availability of products, but also choice with health and wellness in mind. Over the past few years, we have invested heavily in technology, menus and innovations in this area. Our recent trials with Dr Rupy in several of our hospital restaurants is a great example of taking this agenda to the next level - together we created fresh and vibrant menus to bring pop ups to five of our partner hospitals and received excellent feedback.

One of the commitments is around organisations having a designated board director responsible for food (nutrition and safety), who will also report back at board level. This is something we have championed for some time. Having it raised and constantly at this level can only be a good thing. I couldn’t agree more that these changes must be led by effective leadership and should be meaningfully monitored, so we can reflect on what’s working and where improvements can be made. Where we work with clients that have this high-level, consistent approach, we do see that the various teams work most smoothly together - a great example of this is our Exemplar site status for catering at Royal Surrey Hospital.

Some of the other standards vary from having a food and drink strategy; dedicated food service dietitians; plus investment in staff to deliver these services. These are significant and constructive steps, in creating a strategic way we can standardise and improve services across the NHS, building on the approaches and success taking place currently. Importantly, there is also a focus on sustainability, including the reduction of waste.

As an outsourced specialist, I believe we can bring valuable expertise and support to hospital teams. We endeavour to have a partnership approach and when our team is truly imbedded in hospital services, working alongside clinical teams and with strong support at senior or board level - this is when we see our services truly having an impact and succeeding.

There is no doubt a joined-up approach is one of the key factors to success - we would always recommend setting up a food and drink steering group with representation from different disciplines to help the process, bring different perspectives and professions to deliver on implementation.

We provide hospital food for patients at over 25 NHS Trusts across the UK, through our Steamplicity meals. Our development chefs, alongside dietitians create the dishes that utilise the unique micro steam cooking system, enabling fresh and raw ingredients to be cooked and served, within minutes meaning maximum nutrition is retained, whilst also offering flexibility and consistency - 24 hours a day. This system is also proven to reduce food waste – typical health setting food waste levels run at over 10%, with Steamplicity reducing waste to below 2.5%.

We support the NHS Chef of the Year competition and we feel this drives forward standards and helps chefs across the NHS share ideas, knowledge and expertise. Our fantastic Culinary Director, Bruce Toon has been driving this agenda alongside our parent company, Compass Group UK & I, Culinary Director Nick Vadis, who is also Chef Ambassador for the NHS Supply Chain. They have been instrumental in releasing a lot of useful materials and support to those working in hospitals. 

These are just some examples of how our solutions already support NHS Trusts across the UK to meet high standards, against a very challenging backdrop. We are committed to continued innovation to deliver these standards, acting as an expert service delivery partner that can share best practices and innovation that supports the NHS’ clinical teams in the best way possible.  

There is never going to be a one size fits all solution, but I believe these guidelines provide a framework that will unite all NHS food provision to create overarching higher standards for those we serve. Our teams remain committed to supporting the NHS and its agenda of continuous improvement in ensuring patients, staff and visitors have access to high quality, nutritious and sustainable food.”

Russell Blake - MD - Healthcare, Compass Group UK & Ireland