Getting more sustainable food into London's hospitals: Can it be done? And is it worth it?

Starting in 2004, Sustain worked with the Soil Association to help hospitals in London use more healthy and sustainable food. The project showed that hospitals can contribute to happier patients and staff, a better environment and more business for local farms and food companies, just by changing the food they buy and serve. By the end of 2005, one of the four London hospitals in the project was buying almost 15% of their food from local and/or organic sources, with the others making progress and more hospitals wanting to join in. However, there were problems too, and the report outlines how they were overcome, and what more government needs to do to make sustainable food in hospitals the norm, rather than the exception.


Getting more sustainable food into London's hospitals: Can it be done? And is it worth it?Starting in 2004, Sustain worked with the Soil Association to help hospitals in London use more healthy and sustainable food. The project showed that hospitals can contribute to happier patients and staff, a better environment and more business for local farms and food companies, just by changing the food they buy and serve.

By the end of 2005, one of the four London hospitals in the project was buying almost 15% of their food from local and/or organic sources, with the others making progress and more hospitals wanting to join in.  However, there were problems too, and the report outlines how they were overcome, and what more government needs to do to make sustainable food in hospitals the norm, rather than the exception.

The hospitals that participated in this pilot hospital food project were:

  • Ealing General
  • Royal Bethlem, Beckenham and Lambeth
  • Royal Brompton
  • St. George's

These hospitals ranged in size, with 250 to 1,100 beds; type, being both general and specialist; London location and, of course, type of catering operation.

"We want to provide the best fresh foods that we can for patients - as they get the best in medicine, so too should they get the best in food. We want to show that hospital food can be good food."
Mike Duckett, Catering Manager, Royal Brompton Hospital

The project drew on the expertise of a large network and acted as a "dating agency", finding suitable suppliers of sustainable food to match the particular needs of each hospital, and solving problems (including transport, distribution and continuity of supply) as and when they arose. New supplies arranged by the project included apples, beef, eggs, milk and a range of vegetables.

Importantly, the project also undertook a wide range of training events and promotional activities - such a farm visits and celebratory food events - to "sell" the idea to everyone involved, including not only the catering team but also patients and their visitors, and hospital staff. As a result, sustainable food suppliers in London and the South East increased their business, and - without increasing hospital food budgets - the project improved food quality and variety, service levels, and staff and customer satisfaction in participating hospitals.

PROGRESS UPDATE (2012): Since this report, Sustain has supported the Greater London Authority and local authorities in London Boroughs to increase their use of healthy and sustainable food. This work has been undertaken as part of Good Food on the Public Plate project and the Good Food Training for London project, which trained hundreds of hospital catering workers and demonstrated the benefits of new standards for public sector caterer training.

In 2010, we are proud to report that the Greater London Authority family of statutory organisations (police, fire brigade, transport and City Hall) committed to adopting a sustainable food policy in line with the London 2012 Food Vision, to which Sustain also contributed extensively.

Sustain was also invited to help design and support implementation of food standards for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For background, see: www.sustainweb.org/olympicfood - and for the Food Legacy project, inspired by the London 2012 Food Vision, see: www.foodlegacy.org.

In addition, millions of pounds of local authority food buying is now spent on sustainable food due to the work of Good Food on the Public Plate and the Food for Life Partnership. The increase in uptake of healthy and sustainable food by London's local authority procurement is tracked in London Food Link's Good Food for London report.
In 2012, Sustain launched the Campaign for Better Hospital Food. Please get involved to help win compulsory health and sustainability standards for food served in hospitals!

Report contents

The status of this report

Acknowledgements

Foreword

1. A policy everyone agrees on

  • Sustainable farming and food
  • Public sector catering
  • Policies that support sustainable public sector catering

2. So why is it not happening?

  • A number of obstacles
  • Background to this project

3. What we did

  • The hospitals
  • Expertise available
  • Being a "dating agency"
  • Selling the idea
  • Economic evaluation
  • Health evaluation
  • How did the hospitals do?
  • A note on changes during the project
  • Diary of the Hospital Food Project

4. What we learned

  • The practical difficulties can (usually) be overcome
  • Policy conflicts still exist
  • Flexibility is vital
  • It is worth it
  • Voluntary approaches are unlikely to work

5. Recommendations

  • Provide practical help
  • Stop giving conflicting policy signals
  • Encourage flexibility
  • Invest in infrastructure
  • Engage in vigorous and imaginative marketing

31/08/2005
Good Food on the Public Plate

SHARE

mailing list


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

020 3559 6777
sustain@sustainweb.org
RSS

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 2020
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies

Sustain