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UNISON survey criticises hospital food

The HCA (Hospital Caterers Association) has issued an invitation to UNISON to meet to discuss the findings of a recent survey carried out by the union into the food served to hospital patients in England. 


The UNISON survey claims that more than half of hospital staff in England wouldn’t eat the food served to patients because it’s unhealthy and of poor quality. Half of respondents (50%) thought meals were neither nutritious nor good quality, while slightly more (53%) said they wouldn’t eat food prepared for patients. The survey also reveals concerns over the food and drink provision for staff.

Sara Gorton, UNISON’s Head of Health says: “Everyone in hospitals - including staff, patients and visitors - deserves healthy food that’s reasonably priced.

“Patients who are ill need nutritious and appealing meals to help them recover. Busy staff also need nourishing choices and proper breaks so they can re-charge on hectic shifts.

“The NHS is failing in its responsibility to look after the wellbeing of its employees. Healthy options should be made available 24-hours a day and better food standards enforced.”

In response, National Chair of the HCA, Craig Smith, says: “The HCA would be happy to meet with Sara Gorton, to better understand UNISON’s findings and to see where improvements can be identified. As an Association, the health and wellbeing of all patients, staff, and visitors is our priority.


Many NHS employees - and those working for private firms – told the UNISON survey that nutritious meals aren’t available to buy at work, especially when on night shifts. Nearly a third (32%) said on-site vending machines sold no nutritious snacks. Similar complaints were made of restaurants (16%) and shops (16%). Staff said that healthier foods, such as fruit, vegetables and low-fat, low-sugar choices, were hard to find at night despite almost a third (32%) of staff working shifts.

More than one in ten (12%) said they had no access to free drinking water and more than a quarter (28%) that they could not buy food suitable for their diet or religion, such as vegetarian or halal options.

Those who brought food from home (71%) to eat at work often found preparation facilities, such as microwaves and kitchens, fell short of expectations. Two in five (40%) rated these as “bad” and just over a quarter (26%) said they had no dedicated area to eat.

The high cost of nutritious food at work was cited as the biggest barrier to eating healthily (61%).

Craig Smith adds: “The Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) agrees that hospital staff deserve access to healthy food that is reasonably priced and free drinking water should be available to all. 


“We believe the provision of nutritious meals within healthcare environments is first and foremost. In England, CQUIN guidelines determine that healthy choices are always available. Similar standards apply in the other three home nations. Free drinking water is available at all hospital work areas; this is a basic expectation. 


“We agree that it is important to have quality nutritious food available across every site, for those who are providing essential services through the night. And we recognise that there is much to be done in this area. Earlier this month, many interesting, innovative alternatives were on show at our Forum’s exhibition, such as out-of-hours vending.


“Regular patient menu tasting programmes prove very popular with staff and visitors alike. During our recent HCA Learning and Development Forum, more than 600 delegates and exhibitors enjoyed samples from the national Welsh patient's menu, without any complaints.”