The department’s Improving Hospital Food project identified 8 fundamental principles that patients should expect from hospital food, including that hospitals should adopt government buying standards for food and catering services (Food GBS) where practical and supported by procurement practices. The project was well received by partners and welcomed by Sustain.
While there have been a number of calls to introduce mandatory standards for hospital food, the government’s preferred approach remains to encourage the adoption of standards in the NHS through instruction, incentives and inspection.
This approach was outlined by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Quality, Earl Howe, during a debate in the House of Lords on 8 November 2013.
During the course of the debate, Earl Howe confirmed that the Age UK Chairman, Dianne Jeffrey, had agreed to look at food standards in hospitals. She is now leading a Hospital Food Standards Panel that is looking at all the existing standards for nutritional care and healthy eating (for staff, visitors and patients) as well as sustainability, animal welfare and food waste.
Instruction is provided in the NHS standard contract and through the Care Quality Commission (CQC) guidance, which is underpinned by regulations. All healthcare organisations must register with the CQC, whose powers are enshrined in law. The department is currently updating the CQC’s registration requirements to include new fundamental standards of care that all providers will have to meet, and the CQC is developing compliance guidance. The department will ensure that the work of the panel aligns with that.
Additionally, the NHS Standard Contract 2014 to 2015 includes the statement that hospitals will be required to have regard to guidance on the provision of catering services, including government buying standards for food and catering. The Department will continue to work with NHS England to ensure that the panel’s work is appropriately highlighted in later contracts and technical guidance. Commissioners of NHS-funded services have the power to require remedial action to be taken where there is clear evidence that providers are failing to meet the terms of the standard NHS contract.
There are also incentives for excellence. Under the system of commissioning for quality and innovation, called ‘CQUIN’, healthcare commissioners can reward providers for delivering high food standards. For instance, providers might be rewarded for improving food quality, or meeting food standards such as those of the Soil Association .
Finally, the CQC and patients inspect hospitals through the new patient-led assessments of the care environment process, which includes an enhanced food assessment and collects information about compliance with the Food GBS.