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Identifying the optimal route for NHS Trusts to provide a 24/7 food and drink service by December 2023

The latest evolution of the National Standards for Healthcare Food and Drink turns the spotlight onto food and drink provision for NHS staff. A new mandate, focus on section 8 is now in force, requiring every NHS Trust to have a suitable 24/7 service provision that’s appropriate for their demographic up and running by December 2023. https://www.england.nhs.uk/long-read/national-standards-for-healthcare-food-and-drink/


For Trusts without current provision, meeting this mandate within such a compact timescale will be challenging. Recognising this, we hosted an NHS England event in May 2023 that brought together 25 Trusts, as well as market-leading foodservice providers, to explore the barriers and share expertise to help Trusts identify a way forward.


This whitepaper summarises our research into Trusts’ 24/7 foodservice requirements, key strategy considerations and what to look for in a solution.   

What’s driving this accelerated change?

The Independent Review of NHS Hospital Food underlined the importance of all healthcare organisations accepting the intrinsic value of viewing ‘food as medicine’, commenting: “Just as our staff need the right tools to do their job, we also need to ensure that they have the nutrition and hydration they require to perform their crucial roles… Poor working conditions, including a lack of access to nutritious food and drink, can contribute to feelings of stress and lack of control in the workplace”.


Studies also show that doctors with high levels of stress face a 45% to 63% greater risk of making a major medical error, while nurses dealing with stress are associated with higher patient mortality rates.

Many Trusts now need to implement a 24/7 solution fast

Taking the 25 Trusts that attended the NHS England event as a representative sample of Trusts across the country, the headline result is that 64% of Trusts do not  currently have a 24/7 foodservice provision for staff - so will need to act quickly to meet the mandated requirements.


Interestingly, although most Trusts do not  have facilities in place yet, Trusts saw 24/7 foodservice provision as an important addition to their facilities, giving it an average importance score of 8.56 out of 10.


When Trusts were asked to name the main benefits of a 24/7 provision, many expected to see improvements in staff health and wellbeing, as well as predicted benefits around improved recruitment / retention, staff morale and staff job satisfaction. Trust representatives also gave 24/7 provision a 7.24 out of 10 rating as an effective means to attract and retain the staff they so desperately need in the current staffing crisis.


From a staff perspective, 75% say a 24/7 foodservice is an important part of deciding which hospital to work for. They value being able to escape from the clinical environment to somewhere that serves tasty, nutritious food, and offers a comfortable seating area away from the general public.



Important factors to consider when planning a 24/7 implementation

Understandably, in view of today’s tight budgets, the cost of the solution and how to make it commercially viable were potential barriers for 52% of Trusts. However, Trusts are more concerned about how to find funding for set up and ongoing operations than about generating an income; 60% didn’t expect a return at all. Discussion comments reflected an acceptance of a cost-neutral solution or one that brought a small return – as long as it didn’t push prices up. This line of thinking extended into the importance of prioritising an affordable food offering that appealed to a wide audience.


How to staff the provision was an issue for 48% of Trusts; again understandable, given how hospitality is currently struggling to find employees. Headaches over the additional management responsibilities also featured.  


For Trusts with existing 24/7 foodservice provision, the main employee frustrations revolved around unreliable opening hours, a lack of menu variety, a failure to deliver value for money, poor food quality, and issues around staff being able to access it easily from their workplace.

The ideal 24/7 foodservice solution for NHS Trusts

In discussion, Trusts reflected on the importance of achieving a 24/7 foodservice solution that:

    • meets the needs of multiple sites cost-effectively
    • is close enough to staff working environments
    • offers a wide choice of high-quality, nutritious food, including hot food and a value range
    • caters for dietary and cultural requirements
    • provides excellent value for money with an average price point of £4-5 for a healthy meal
    • attracts repeat business.

What to consider when designing a 24/7 provision

With the pressure on to get a solution in place by December 2023, many Trusts will be looking to partner with external providers as the most rapid route to implementation.


However, it’s vital that Trusts take the time to consider what commercial model will best suit their needs in the longer as well as shorter term. Crucially, they should avoid signing any long-term agreements that do not  include break clauses to give them time to assess whether the provision is fully meeting their needs.


The primary decision must be whether to opt for:

  • the Trust providing capital funding and then looking for a return on its investment via all the commercial returns
  • the chosen provider funding the capital investment required, sharing the commercial returns with the Trust.


The route chosen will determine the level of returns the Trust can expect. This, in turn, should lead into strategic decisions about how the Trust will use the income generated. Potentially, this could be reinvested into the food offer, into subsidising staff meals, or into other staff wellbeing projects.


Trusts should remember that they are within their rights to ask any provider to adopt full transparency on costs, so that Trusts can make fully informed decisions.

Making a 24/7 foodservice happen by December 2023

With broad experience in providing 24/7 foodservice provision to NHS acute hospitals, Compass UK & Ireland led by One Retail and Medirest are ready to guide Trusts towards a strategy that delivers the right offer, in the right place, with the right choices for the right price.


For further advice on your options, contact Haley-Mae Downer or Olly Young. haley-mae.downer@compass-group.co.uk or olly.young@compass-group.co.uk