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Hospital food: Celebrity chef initiatives 'have failed'

Only compulsory nutritional standards will improve meals served to patients, says report
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

22nd February 2013 - Attempts by celebrity chefs to improve hospital food in England have failed and the time has come to introduce legally binding standards, says a food and farming pressure group.

The group, Sustain, says that 21 voluntary initiatives over a 20 year period which have been launched by the government have failed to revolutionise the low quality, unhealthy and unpopular patient meals served up on hospital wards for decades.

Waste of money

Sustain's report, 'Twenty years of hospital food failure: Why we need mandatory standards, not more ineffective voluntary initiatives', estimates that £54 million of taxpayers' money has been wasted in trying to raise standards between 1992 and 2013.

During that period the journalist and broadcaster Loyd Grossman and five celebrity chefs - Albert Roux, John Benson-Smith, Mark Hix, Anton Edelmann and Heston Blumenthal - were asked to front the initiatives.

'Gimmicks don't work'

Albert Roux, who was asked 20 years ago to compare standards of hospital food served in the NHS against that served in private hospitals, says: "speeches and gimmicks do not work - what we need now is change to the whole hospital food system, starting with the introduction of food standards for every patient meal".

Also quoted in today's report, Loyd Grosman says that although he and his team tried to improve patient meals for five years, "progress was much slower than we would have liked". He adds: "Although we had a number of successes, we did not achieve the transformation which we had hoped for and which patients deserve."

Mr Grossman blames "a lack of political will" for the failure to bring about change.

Mandatory standards

The Sustain report says that successive health ministers have continued where their predecessors left off, repackaging and relaunching weak, voluntary guidance. It says that on behalf of the 89 members of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food we call on the government to follow the examples set by Scotland and Wales and set mandatory health and sustainability standards for hospital food in England.

Earlier this week, the Academy of Royal Colleges, which represents Britain’s 220,000 doctors, announced its public support for mandatory standards for hospital food in all UK hospitals. The Academy described Jeremy Hunt’s proposals to improve hospital food as "vague and voluntary".

Nutrition: 'As important as medication'

Commenting on the Sustain report, Helen Davidson, honorary chairman of the British Dietetic Association says in an emailed statement: "Good food and appropriate nutrition must, at all times, be an absolute priority. We should never underestimate the impact this has on patient treatment, well being and improvement. Indeed, food and nutrition can be just as important as medication for some and patients should look forward to meal times. As it stands, the scope for this to improve in hospitals is massive."

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