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Action to improve the provision of food for nurses working in hospitals, particularly those on night shifts, must be an “urgent priority”, according to a new review published today.
An independent review of hospital food has made a list of recommendations on how NHS trusts can provide more nutritious meals to both staff and patients, as well as focus on food safety and impacts on the environment.
“Ask any member of the nursing staff in a hospital they would tell you that particularly on a night shift being able to get hot food is near impossible”
Led by a panel of advisers and chaired by Philip Shelley, catering lead for Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, the review said staff on night shifts were among the “most ill-served” when it came to hospital food.
It flagged how staff were “often eating from vending machines offering nothing healthy and nothing hot”.
The review called for an upgrade of hospital and ward kitchens to ensure a 24/7 service could be provided for “everyone”.
But it stressed that if a 24/7 food service was not available to staff then they “must have access to appropriate facilities to safely store, prepare and eat their own meals at any time of the day or night”.
The blueprint added that it was “essential” that hospital environments made it “possible and easy” for staff to choose healthy options.
“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,” the report stated.
It warned that the coronavirus pandemic had added further challenges on staff access to food and drink and called for action to address this for the future.
“Even basic things, like drinking enough water, have been made harder by infection control procedures,” it said.
“We must make sure that hospital infrastructure is improved to tackle these issues for future pandemics.”
The struggle to access hot or healthy food, coupled with time pressures put on staff during their shifts, was “eroding the culture for taking time out from shifts to have proper breaks with appropriate food available”, the report added.
Implementing recommendations for staff catering “should be an urgent priority and an easy win”, it said.
“We must all prioritise our health and be empowered to eat well, whether we’re at home or in hospital”
Commenting on the review, a Royal College of Nursing spokesperson said: “It should not have taken this length of time to recognise the need for staff to have access to healthy and nutritious food during their shift.
“Ask any member of the nursing staff in a hospital they would tell you that particularly on a night shift being able to get hot food is near impossible.
“Canteens are closed and facilities where they can prepare their own food have been cut.”
The RCN reiterated that even if this provision was available “the shortage of staff makes it increasingly difficult to find the time to take a break” and warned that without a boost in the workforce staff would not benefit from the proposals outlined in the review.
Other recommendations included in the report called for moves to increase the role of nurses in overseeing food services to ensure that nutritious meals are included within a patient’s recovery plan.
To help boost recognition of the clinical importance of food in hospitals, the review said it was crucial that directors of nursing had “accountability for food services as part of their remit over the nutritional care of patients”.
It stressed that to help hospital food be seen for its clinical benefit there needed to be a joined-up approach between catering, nursing and dietic teams.
For example, it said that having a food and drink steering group with representation from nursing, dietetics, catering, speech and language therapists, along with sustainability and staff health and wellbeing leads, as well as patients, had proven to be “a suitable governance structure in many hospitals and should be implemented across the board”.
In addition, the report recommended for food and drinks standards to be statutory and inspected by the Care Quality Commission.
Investment was also needed in technology to ensure every hospital could implement a digital meal ordering system by 2022, the review added.
This would help staff to not only collect food choices, but to help manage allergies and diets and minimise waste.
Effort must also be taken to ensure government food procurement standards were upheld, it said, adding that NHS trusts should also agree a common method of monitoring food waste.
To help implement recommendations from the report, the government said it would establish an expert group of NHS nurses, caterers and dietitians to lead on the next steps.
Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, said: “This pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the importance of good food and proper nutrition.
“We must all prioritise our health and be empowered to eat well, whether we’re at home or in hospital.
“This impressive report shows the way to good hospital food for all – patients, staff and visitors.”