News / Good Food for Our Money Campaign

Government wastes over £50m on hospital food failure

The Government has wasted over £50 million since the year 2000 on at least 17 separate initiatives to improve hospital food, which have resulted in almost no improvement to the quality of meals served, or to their nutritional and environmental value.

The Government has wasted over 50 million since the year 2000 on at least 17 separate initiatives to improve hospital food, which have resulted in almost no improvement to the quality of meals served, or to their nutritional and environmental value.

The findings come in a report from a coalition of health and environmental campaigners, who are calling for a new law to improve all food served in public sector institutions.

Download the full report here: A decade of hospital food failure: A review of ten years' of failed voluntary initiatives to improve hospital food [download 635kb PDF file]

The report, entitled 'A Decade of Hospital Food Failure' [1] is critical of the Government's refusal to introduce legal standards to improve the quality, healthiness and environmental benefits of hospital food, despite repeatedly assuring the public that healthy and sustainable hospital food is a top priority, particularly in helping support patient recovery [2]. The report points the finger at weak and expensive voluntary initiatives including:

  • The 40m Better Hospital Food Initiative: Launched in 2001 to improve the quality of hospital food. Scrapped in 2006 after poor take-up. [3]
  • The 10m NHS Plan: Launched 2000, partly to improve nutrition in hospitals. By 2009, a survey of 400 healthcare professionals said nutritional care in hospitals had improved 'not at all' or 'not much'. [4]
  • The 2.5m Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative: Launched 2003 to improve the sustainability of public sector food, including in hospitals. Mothballed in 2009 after poor take-up. [5]

Researchers found that the only consistent improvements in public sector food were in schools, where mandatory rules mean that all children can benefit from better quality food.

Alex Jackson, coordinator of the Good Food for our Money campaign [6] (and a lead researcher for the report) said: The government has led us into an expensive ground hog day to improve hospital food and seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. One billion meals are served by public sector institutions every year, paid for by taxpayers' money. This huge amount of food provides a unique opportunity to improve health and encourage more sustainable farming. Yet the government has failed to seize this opportunity, and continues to spend our money on issuing weak voluntary schemes and yet more guidance to public sector caterers, who are given no incentive to take action.

Kath Dalmeny, policy director of Sustain, an alliance of food and farming organisations, said: As the 'Decade of Hospital Food Failures' draws to a close, the secretary of state responsible for food standards, Hilary Benn, should admit that ten years of expensive voluntary initiatives have failed. If the government is serious about improving health and protecting the environment through its food purchases, he must introduce legal standards for public sector food.

For media enquiries, contact Alex Jackson, mobile: 07734 902909


Notes to editor

  1. The report 'A Decade of Hospital Food Failure' analyses government policy announcements, commitments and initiatives intended to improve hospital food since 1995. An embargoed copy of the report is at: www.sustainweb.org/goodfoodforourmoney/voluntary_initiatives_fail
    [note that this web address is only available to journalists who have received this press release and will 'go live' to the public on the embargo date]
  2. A recent Parliamentary Question by Stephen O'Brien MP revealed that more than 2,600 people have died from malnutrition in hospitals and care homes in England during the past decade.
  3. The 40m Better Hospital Food Initiative. The NHS commissions BBC Masterchef host Lloyd Grossman to lead a food team for a 40m revamp of NHS catering. They create 300 restaurant-style recipes for use in hospitals. The scheme was scrapped in 2006. The Department of Health (DH) had set a target that all hospitals should introduce at least three new meals promoted by the initiative, but after five years the Hospital Caterers Association estimated that 25 per cent of NHS trusts had failed to introduce a single dish from the new menus, with less than half offering three of the choices.
  4. The 10m NHS Plan: Launched 2000, partly to improve nutrition in hospitals. This developed into the Nutrition Action Plan, launched in 2007 by the Department of Health. By 2009, a survey of 400 healthcare professionals said nutritional care in hospitals had improved 'not at all' or 'not much'. See the Nursing Times report at: http://www.nursingtimes.net/whats-new-in-nursing/specialists/older-people/nhs-still-lagging-on-nutrition-care/5001231.article
  5. The 2.5m Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PSFPI) was launched in 2003. After six years of operation, the PSFPI evaluation conducted by Deloitte concluded that take up of the initiative was limited and PSFPI is not embedded in the public sector.
  6. The Good Food for Our Money campaign calls on government to introduce a law to improve standards for healthy and sustainable public sector food. The campaign is run by Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming, a coalition of around 100 health and sustainability groups. Each year the government spends more than 2 billion on public sector food, which is served in schools, hospitals, care homes and other public organisations throughout the country. Currently, public sector food does not have to meet any binding health or sustainability standards (except in schools, where mandatory nutrition standards apply). This means that food paid for by taxpayers' money is largely purchased without considering its effect on people's health, the environment or the wider social benefits that would be achieved by buying more sustainable produce - for example supporting sustainable jobs in rural areas.
  7. The Department of Health, working with the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, is currently piloting yet another voluntary initiative, the Healthier Food Mark, to encourage public sector caterers to work towards bronze, silver or gold standards for health and sustainability. There is no more incentive for caterers to apply for this, than for any of the catalogue of previous failed initiatives detailed in today's report. For details of the Healthier Food Mark, see: www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Healthimprovement/Healthyliving/HealthierFoodMark/index.htm
Sheep farmer. Credit: Cottonbro | Pexels

Demand Government buys high-quality food for our schools and hospitals

Take our online action

Published 29 Dec 2009

Good Food for Our Money Campaign: The Good Food for Our Money campaign ran from 2008 to 2011. After several notable successes, this campaign has now evolved to focus on winning healthy and sustainable food standards for hospital food, in parallel with Sustain's existing work on the Children's Food Campaign to secure healthy and sustainable food standards for school meals.

Support our charity

Donate to enhance the health and welfare of people, animals and the planet.

Donate

Sustain
The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777
sustain@sustainweb.org

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

© Sustain 2022
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies

Sustain