Catering for a healthy environment

Food for Life’s Adrian Roper discusses how to help NHS trusts create a better food experience and support a health-promoting environment for patients, staff and visitors through shared learning

The Soil Association’s Food for Life programme has been working with communities and a range of settings to help make good food the easy choice for everyone – making healthy, tasty and sustainable meals the norm for all to enjoy, reconnecting people with where their food comes from, teaching them how it’s grown and cooked, and championing the importance of well‑sourced ingredients.

Food for Life works with schools, nurseries, hospitals and care homes, helping them build knowledge and skills through a ‘whole setting approach’. This engages children and parents, staff, patients and visitors, caterers, carers and the wider community to create a powerful voice for long-term change.

One key area of our programme is working with NHS trusts to support them to be consistently health-promoting environments where food plays a central role in recovery of patients, reducing re‑admissions, supporting well-being in the community, and where staff and visitors have access to ‘good food’ that supports their well-being.

Food for Life’s support also aligns with key national policy initiatives such as the mandatory ‘Healthy food for NHS staff, visitor and patients’ CQUIN, development of a Food and Drink Strategy, as outlined in the NHS Standard Contract, and our industry standard Food for Life Served Here accreditation is cited as being evidence of meeting relevant Government Buying Standards.

To date, Food for Life has worked with over 70 NHS trusts providing support to them to make food a central element of being a health promoting environment. We do this through a variety of support packages and our expert team are happy to provide bespoke support on key issues pertinent to your trust.

Hospitals Food Network
Food for Life has recognised that there is no forum for NHS trusts to get together to share learning around a range of food issues and addressed this by developing the Food for Life Hospitals’ Network. Our network includes two seminars which we run every year, three newsletters highlighting policy change, innovative practices and case studies from across the sector as well as access to the national Food for Life conference. All these elements are designed to help trusts create a better food experience and support a health-promoting environment for patients, staff and visitors through shared learning and with the opportunity to showcase your trust’s achievements.

CQUIN Benchmarking and auditing
Food for Life’s ‘Healthy food for NHS staff, visitors and patients’ CQUIN bench-marking and audit helps NHS trusts and retail outlets to understand where they are in relation to achieving compliance; making recommendations for change and providing evidence for Clinical Commissioning Groups. Expert staff carry out an in-depth audit of compliance with CQUIN standards and provide a detailed report outlining changes required to meet CQUIN standards as well as providing further recommendations around improving your retail offer and provision of healthy options 24 hours a day. Our reports can be used as evidence to your CCG of compliance with CQUIN or as a means of assessing any changes that may be needed.

Food and Drink Strategy Support
Food and Drink Strategies are required of each NHS trust under the NHS Standard Contract and our support package is designed to help NHS trusts develop a strategy with multi-disciplinary input, identifying priorities and challenges, and supporting trusts to take a multi-disciplinary approach to drive change. Examples of what might be included to support this include a review of trust wide policies and site visit, benchmarking against national best practice and the requirements of the Food and Drink Strategy, identifying strengths and highlighting opportunities for change. The review will include written feedback.

Furthermore, it will include a bespoke multi-disciplinary workshop for key senior staff, bringing together the key stakeholders involved in food, to work in partnership to develop your strategic vision for food, as well as next steps resources, including a report based on the key issues raised in the workshop and action plan templates. Additionally, a draft food and drink strategy, including follow up meeting to finalise the strategy, will be included alongside progress review meetings. This will include facilitation support and input from a Food for Life expert at multi-disciplinary meetings to review your progress and refine next steps.

Reducing food waste workshops
Whether you are catered for by an in house team or by external caterers, reducing food waste is a top priority for many NHS trusts as budgets continue to be stretched and costs for waste disposal rise. Bringing multi-disciplinary teams together, Food for Life’s support raises awareness of the financial, nutritional and environmental implications of food waste, looks at current challenges and opportunities for food waste reduction in your NHS trust and builds shared solutions. Additionally, new auditing techniques are taught with food waste audit templates being provided to your trust to be used across the hospital or trust.

Support includes: a scoping call, exploring current practice, identifying strategic priorities and understanding your challenges in relation to food waste; a bespoke multi-disciplinary workshop for key staff, supporting you to understand the impact and causes of food waste, the scale of food waste in the trust, and exploring ways to monitor and minimise waste; on-site ward level food waste audit, led by a Food for Life expert, teaching new auditing methods; bespoke food waste report and resources, covering feedback from the audit and recommendations; and progress review meeting, supporting the team once they have begun to put the changes in place.

Food for Life Served Here
The Food for Life Served Here award, previously known as the Catering Mark, is an independent award scheme that means you can guarantee that the food on your menus meets certain standards. A Food for Life Served Here award means you’re serving local, fresh and honest food cooked by chefs who really care about quality and ingredients, in a setting that takes your customer’s health and well-being seriously. It means your staff, visitors and patients know that the majority of food on the menu is freshly prepared, free from undesirable trans fats, sweeteners and additives, and is cooked by trained chefs, and use ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources.

Food for Life Served Here is also a recognised accreditation that shows you are meeting Government Buying Standards. Over 1.7 million Food for Life Served Here meals are served every day in the UK and trusts and caterers are increasingly using it as a means to drive positive change and demonstrate their commitment to providing ‘good food’.
A healthy environment
Food for Life’s work with NHS trusts across the country has supported them to make real change around their food offer and becoming a health promoting environment. The benefits are wide ranging. For sustainability, the Food for Life Served Here certification provides a framework within which hospitals can meet and exceed the mandatory sustainability requirements for food and catering service. Targeting multidisciplinary engagement, our approach is designed to bring together teams including estates and facilities, nursing, dietetics, public health, patient experience and communications. To provide expert training, support and resources, we offer a wealth of resources, specialist support and menu of training, developed and delivered by experts. Enhancing links beyond the hospital, the Food for Life Hospital framework encourages engagement with public health, the wider community and care settings, whilst to share best practice the Food for Life Hospital Network brings together member trusts to share learning and collectively influence national policy.

Trusts Food for Life has worked with have found our partnership to be of huge value. Claire Hinds, associate director for Support Services, South Warwickshire NHS Trust, said: “Food for Life is helping to transform hospital food for patients, staff and visitors. The expert team has helped us to develop new approaches that we are really proud of.”

We are really keen to engage and support NHS trusts around making food a central element of being a truly health promoting environment, so please contact us if there is any areas where you feel you would value some support in becoming a good food exemplar.

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