I must admit, I thought doctors, nurses and other staff working nights would already have access to hot food. Surely that's a basic human right for our wonderful NHS workers. But it seems not.
Dr Dolly Sud and Neely Mozawala run the No Hungry NHS Staff Campaign, and are urging us all to write to our MPs, calling for every hospital trust to provide affordable and nutritious hot food through 24-hour canteen services and dining facilities.
Dr Dolly Sud, Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Senior Mental Health Pharmacist
Neely Mozawala, Specialist Diabetes Podiatrist and Founder of Baking Medics
Writing on behalf of the:
No Hungry NHS Staff Campaign Team
This review was chaired by Philip Shelley, catering lead for Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and led by a panel of advisers and included Prue Leith as an independent advisor. This review reported that staff on night shifts were among the “most ill-served” when it came to hospital food.
The review highlighted how staff were “often eating from vending machines offering nothing healthy and nothing hot”. The review made a clear call for an upgrade of hospital and ward kitchens to ensure a 24/7 service could be provided for “everyone.”
Furthermore, the report also 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. The report stated that: “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 also warned that the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in additional challenges on the access that staff had to food and drink and called for action to address this for the future. The report stated: “Even basic things, like drinking enough water, have been made harder by infection control procedures,” and “We must make sure that hospital infrastructure is improved to tackle these issues for future pandemics.”
The report added that the difficulties that staff experienced in accessing hot or healthy food along with time pressures put on staff during their working shifts eroded “the culture for taking time out from shifts to have proper breaks with appropriate food available.” Importantly the report stated that Implementing recommendations for staff catering “should be an urgent priority and an easy win.”
Many would argue that 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. More than a year on from the publication of this report it is apparent that these recommendations have not been consistently or appropriately taken forward. NHS staff working in hospitals across the UK getting hot food particularly during night shifts is near impossible. Our research has revealed that 84% of NHS staff do not have access to a hot food service from their NHS trust during their 12 hour night shifts. Many staff also report that canteens are closed and facilities where they can prepare their own food have been cut.
The review also added that investment was also needed in technology to ensure every hospital could implement a digital meal ordering system by 2022. This would help staff to not only help staff make food choices but also manage allergies and diets and minimise waste and improve efficiency. Furthermore, the report stated that effort must also be taken to ensure government food procurement standards were upheld and that NHS trusts should also agree a common method of monitoring food waste.
We are currently running a national campaign in the UK to encourage NHS Hospital Trusts and healthcare institutions to put in place the provision of hot food 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The provision of hot food 24 hours a day, 7 days a week would have a positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing of those staff as well as morale across the NHS. Ultimately, this would result in an improved quality of care for patients and their families and informal carers.
How can you help? You can help us by writing to your Members of Parliament to urge them to sign an Early Day Motion calling upon the Government to provide the funding necessary to enable each hospital trust to provide a 24 hour hot food canteen service and dining facilities, providing affordable and nutritious hot food to their staff. This proposal is in accordance with the recommendations of the national independent NHS food review.
Our hope is that this is the first in a series of steps that will facilitate recognition of the importance of access to good nutrition to the wellbeing and mental and physical health of these NHS caring staff and to the quality of the care provided to their patients.
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