Representing estates and facilities professionals operating within the  



Labour pledges to set and enforce new standards for hospital meals

Speaking at the Hospital Caterers Association's (HCA's) National Leadership & Development Forum today (April 12), Jonathan Ashworth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, says it is time to apply the highest standards to hospital food and to enforce those standards. 


He pledged that Labour would place hospital meals on the same legal basis as school meals and would set new, higher standards that would be independently monitored and enforced.


The NHS, he said, gives its patients access to the best clinicians and services, so why then deny them access to the best food when it is recognised how important good food and good nutrition is to health.


Furthermore, he said that all food served on NHS premises should be healthy. There is no place for junk food, supersized chocolate bars or sugary drinks and although he applauded the efforts taken by many Trusts to move away from this, whilst there are still fast food offerings in the reception areas of any hospital more has to be done. If Trusts don't move quickly enough to address this issue, a future Labour Government would, he said, not hesitate to mandate.


Mr Ashworth also indicated that more funding would be available for the NHS under a Labour Government. He confirmed that they would not place yet more pressure on an already stretched health service by refusing to recognise that it is underfunded. The Labour manifesto for the last general election included a pledge to increase taxation on the wealthiest to raise £5 billion. Mr Ashworth went further and said Labour would allocate even more funding for investment in infrastructure.   


In the wider economy, Mr Ashworth said he wanted to see the sugar tax extended, increased advertising restrictions and a ban on energy drink sales to those under 18.


In an audience comprising hospital caterers, facilities managers, third party FM service providers and suppliers to the service, all of this was broadly welcomed. However, controversially, Mr Ashworth also stated that the Labour party is against outsourcing of services such as catering and is opposed to the NHS setting up wholly owned subsidiaries. On both of these points he was challenged from the floor. 


Serco Solution Director (Health), Nick Slater asked whether this was an agenda to promote in-house catering at hospitals or to support quality catering for the patient. Mr Ashworth replied that as Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had recently made his views clear on outsourcing there would be a presumption that contracts would generally move back in-house but that there would be no hard and fast rule. 


Paul Birch, Head of Retained Estate for South Tees Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, challenged Mr Ashworth’s dismissal of the wholly owned subsidiary as a move made simply to exploit a VAT loophole and said that through the sub NHS Trusts were doing the work that subsequent governments had failed to do. For example, a more realistic approach to policy over sick days has a benefit to all the hardworking staff who have to cover for absences that are not always necessary (or may be unnecessarily protracted) and to the taxpayer who has to pay for them.


Jonathan Ashworth confirmed that high on his agenda now is to open a dialogue with the industry, and with members of the HCA, to explore what is realistic, what can be achieved and to focus on improving the quality of patient food, consistently.