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Sharing best practice in hospital catering

The Hospital Caterers Association, (HCA) has published the findings of new research into the provision of patient, visitor and staff catering services in hospitals across the four nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Four Nations Report surveyed more than 400 Branch members of the HCA, encompassing some 266 NHS hospital Trusts. The information gleaned covers the style of catering service provided (for instance, cook-serve, cook-chill, cook-freeze, delivered-in) and whether it is in-house, contracted-out or a mixture of the two. "We believe it is the largest report of its kind to-date, specifically looking at NHS Catering,” says Phil Shelley, National Chair of the HCA.

“This report is in response to our members’ desire to share best practice and work collaboratively to help overcome the many challenges they face in providing a safe, nutritious, cost-effective and relevant catering service in their Trust.”

The Four Nations Report highlights some of the differences in approach and relevant standards for compliance between the different nations, as well as geographical variance across the different regions of England, which is by far the largest of the four nations, looking after 54.3 million people and with approximately 1.2 million employees. England is also the only one of the four nations to have entire Trusts with out-sourced catering services and is the only nation to have Trusts that are completely reliant on delivered, bought-in meals. In contrast, Scotland is predominantly cook fresh but a widespread move towards cook freeze is predicted as there is limited finance available to refurbish kitchens. The service in Wales is already dominated by cook freeze.

The key challenges identified for the hospital catering service for 2017 and beyond include finance, food prices, waste, nutrition and hydration, restriction of the sale of sugary products, technology and out-of-hours services.

NHS Scotland is already working to tight controls governing the offer of healthier choices as all NHS dining areas are now required to meet the Healthyliving Plus standard which states the offering must have 70% healthier choices. NHS Scotland is also banned from selling sugary drinks, although external contractors on site are not subject to the same rule. “This still needs to be addressed,” says Stewart McKenzie, HCA Vice Chair.

Wales is the only one of the four nations to have moved towards a national framework. The all-Wales Menu Framework provides a national database of nutritionally analysed menus for every hospital to use. Hospitals may also submit their own recipes for inclusion through the all-Wales operational group. A national menu for NHS England has been suggested as a way of moving forwards, reducing costs, achieving consistency of dishes, ensuring nutritional values and streamlining ingredients.

In Northern Ireland, across all roles (not just catering) a new computerised Human Resources Pay and Travel System (HRPTS) has been adopted. So far this has rolled out through four of the five Trusts. The aim is to take recruitment out of Trust control and centralise it within Northern Ireland with a view to utilising technology and the process of centralisation to save money.

In England, there are challenges around the retail offer, the CQUIN standards and financial pressures that lead to short term planning for negative long term affect. “Quality in our purchasing, preparation, service and presentation needs to be continually challenged if we are to raise our standards,” concludes Phil Shelley.