Dianne Jeffrey, chair of the Malnutrition Task Force and the Department of Health’s Hospital Food Standards Panel, writes about improving food standards in our hospitals.
Going into hospital can be a very worrying time. There’s no excuse in having that experience compounded by poor quality food or by having no control over what you can eat or drink.
With good nutrition and hydration being a vital component of the healing and recovery process for all patients, it’s essential we get hospital food and drink right.
Yet over the years, food and drink has been an issue that some hospitals have struggled with.
Many of us will have heard stories of our loved ones being served food that’s unappetising or unappealing.
So I’ve always been adamant that this is an area which needs to change.
At the end of 2013, I took up a role as chair of the Department of Health’s Hospital Food Standards Panel.
Our report, published in 2014, made a handful of recommendations to improve food and drink in hospitals. We also selected highly relevant standards to make it easier for those involved to commission, provide and monitor food.
In 2016, the Panel reconvened to see what progress had been made, and we published our findings this January in Compliance with hospital food standards in the NHS.
Compliance with hospital food standards in the NHS
Looking at the report, it’s pleasing to see that in 2016, 84% of hospitals had a food and drink strategy in place, an improvement from 2015 when only 65% had a strategy.
Elsewhere, more hospitals are becoming compliant with recommended standards. 54% of hospitals are fully compliant with the 10 Characteristics of Good Nutritional Care, and 42% are working towards full compliancy. This is an increase from 2015 when only 40% of hospitals were fully compliant with these Characteristics.
Nutritional screening of patients on admission to hospital is also becoming more commonplace. Last year, 93% of hospitals said they had assessed the nutritional needs of at least 70% of patients, using MUST or equivalent nutritional screening tools.
Let’s not forget as well the publication of the NHS Commissioning Guidance on Nutrition and Hydration. This handy guide provides information for commissioners on commissioning and delivering nutrition and hydration services in local areas and provides examples of best practice that can be followed.
Of course, none of this would make any difference if patients themselves weren’t feeling the benefits. Since our initial report, patient surveys like the annual Patient-Led Assessments of the Care Environment have been amended to take into account hospital food. In the last year, food taste in 89.2% of hospitals was rated good or very good by patients, up from 83.9% in 2013.
We should be under no illusions that the work is over. Although the patient surveys show an improvement in food quality, there is still a small proportion of hospitals serving food rated as poor; clearly, this is totally unacceptable.
Whilst there has been progress across the sector, a small minority of hospitals still do not have a food and drink strategy and some are not working towards compliance with the recognised standards. Action will need to be taken to address this. After all, if the 2016 rate of progress in implementing strategies continued during 2017, by the end of the year all hospitals would have one in place.
During 2017, responsibilities for hospital food will be transferred to NHS Improvement, an organisation responsible for improving performance in the NHS. By holding providers to account and, where necessary, intervening, we hope that NHS Improvement will offer us new opportunities for national action.
So whilst there has been clear progress, we still have work to do.
Continued work on improving food and drink in hospital must be top priority. I very much look forward to seeing what we can achieve in 2017.
*All graphics taken from Department of Health’s Compliance with hospital food standards infographic document
To read other Malnutrition Task Force blogs, click here.