Other Sustain projects
The Campaign for Better Hospital Food is one of a number of projects and campaigns run by Sustain to improve the food we eat. These include:
- Sustainable Fish City – striving to make London to the first Sustainable Fish City.
- Capital Growth – London's food growing network.
- Children’s Food Campaign – campaigning to improve children’s diets.
- Food Legacy – working to ensure that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games inspires caterers and suppliers to improve their food.
To discover more about Sustain’s projects and campaigns please visit www.sustainweb.org
Hospital food statistics
There is an abundance of evidence to demonstrate that most hospital food in England remains as bad as ever. For example:
- Figures show that approximately one in every ten meals served to patients are returned to the kitchen uneaten (‘Protected mealtimes failing as nine million hospital meals go uneaten’, Ssentif Intelligence press release, 10 October 2011)
- The Soil Association calculates that six out of ten patients rely on their families to bring them food because they don’t like what they are served in hospital (Soil Association, ‘First Aid for Hospital Food’).
- A survey of twenty five hospital meals by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food found that three out of every four hospital meals would be given a red (high) traffic light for saturated fat under the Food Standards Agency’s traffic light model, and fifteen of the twenty five meals surveyed contain more salt than a Big Mac.
- Hospital food served to children has been found to be so unhealthy that it could not legally be served to children in school.
- In 2006, Which? found that one in three patients were unhappy with the quality of hospital food and a staggering two thirds of hospital staff would be unhappy to eat the food that they were serving to patients (Soil Association, ‘First Aid for Hospital Food’).
- Hospital food is usually less environmentally friendly than food served at McDonalds. This is because the fast food giant serves more organic food, sustainable fish and fair trade tea and coffee than is required by Government Buying Standards, which are not mandatory for hospitals. See Dishing out Failing Food Standards.
Why hospital food standards are good value
Depending on what they are, environmental and ethical standards may increase or reduce costs e.g. organic fruit costs more, but buying seasonal food from local farmers is often cheaper, and choosing Marine Stewardship Council certified pollock, hake, hoki and coley is often the least expensive whitefish available.
While cost data for different standards of hospital food is not easily accessible, there is an abundance of evidence to show that buying better hospital food creates a range of (sometimes unintended) economic benefits e.g. the creation of jobs in sustainable farming, investing in local economies and helping to tackle diet-related ill health which is costly for Government and local services to treat.
Why are hospital food standards needed?
While a handful of hospitals in England have introduced hospital food standards to improve patients’ meals, the government’s reliance on voluntary initiatives to encourage the adoption of food standards at all hospitals has failed. In the last ten years Sustain estimates that £54 million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on these Government voluntary approaches.
At the same time, the English, Welsh and Scottish Governments have improved the food served at other public institutions by requiring it to meet mandatory standards. Below is a timeline for the best known examples:
- 2005 - the Westminster Government introduced mandatory nutritional standards for school food in England. The improvement to school food since 2005 means that children opting for school lunches now get healthy, tasty and varied meals which include at least two portions of fruit and vegetables each day (providing vitamins and minerals) and have limited fat, sugar and salt content.
- 2008 – the Scottish Government introduced nutritional standards for hospital food in Scotland to address the affect of poor diets on health, particularly on the development of heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes.
- 2011 - the Welsh Government followed Scotland’s lead and introduced compulsory nutritional standards for hospital food in Wales.
- 2011 – the Westminster government introduced nutritional, environmental and ethical standards for food served in ‘central government’ which includes government departments, prisons and parts of the armed forces.
In the face of clear evidence that voluntary initiatives have failed and that setting food standards work, we believe that mandatory standards for hospital food in England are now urgently needed.
The Campaign for Better Hospital Food represents a coalition of organisations calling on the Westminster government to introduce mandatory nutritional, environmental and ethical standards for food served to patients in NHS hospitals in England. You can see a list of organisations supporting the campaign here.
These standards would ensure that hospital food:
- promotes health, by reducing saturated fat, sugar and salt, and ensuring it meets recommended dietary guidelines for patients,
- protects the environment, by increasing the amount of food which is sustainably grown (such as organic), using less oil and water, enhancing the soil and biodiversity, and resulting in fewer greenhouse-gas-emissions (GHGs), and
- supports ethical food and farming practices e.g. by specifying animal welfare standards and guaranteeing that farmers who produce hospital food get fair pay and have safe working conditions.