Good hospital food doesn't sell papers, it saves lives

Amy Leech - 23 November 2012

In the last 10 years, no fewer than 20 initiatives have been put in place to improve hospital food. And yet, the bad news stories are still rolling in. Last week's was another to add to the long list of headlines.

Of course, good news rarely turns heads, or newspaper pages for that matter.

The Soil Association welcomes the Government's renewed efforts to improve hospital food. But it's not just policy changes that will improve hospital food's bad image or the food that ends up on patient's plates. Change begins in the kitchens and wards that care for patients - with the people in hospitals around the country who are serving thousands of meals three times a day.

It is in hospitals and behind the headlines where a different story is emerging, one that would have bad news hungry journalists eating their words.

On the same day that yet another bad hospital food story hit the headlines, a less newsworthy event was happening at Scarborough Hospital. You might remember that Scarborough Hospital did receive some media attention last year, when TV series Operation Hospital Food visited Scarborough hospital's kitchen. The catering staff there wanted to make changes to the food they served, and celebrity chef James Martin was called in to help them, aiming to achieve a Bronze Catering Mark for their efforts. They made significant improvements, yet didn't quite make Bronze in the time they had. Fortunately, they didn't give up, and last week were presented with their Bronze award for serving freshly prepared, seasonal, ethical food that meets UK welfare standards, to their patients.

We could learn a lot from Scarborough. Like hospital food, Scarborough has made its name in the past. But over the years and out of the spotlight its one of many hospitals proving things can change - they are challenging stereotypes.

Change is happening, albeit slowly, from the bottom up. Scarborough, and an increasing number of Soil Association hospital food leaders around the UK are putting good food at the heart of their service.

Hospital food is an essential part of patient care. Good food can encourage patients to eat well, giving them the nutrients they need to recover from surgery or illness. Good hospital food doesn't sell papers, but it undoubtedly saves lives. Let's give it the attention it deserves.

Amy is Research Assistant at the Soil Association.

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Amy Leech
26 November 2012 10:49

Thanks Wendy for your thoughts, it is good to hear you experience as a nurse. As you say, hospitals have a lot of needs to cater for - so changing food can be a challenge. But again, as you say, the food we eat is central to our health so it even if it takes times and energy it has to be worth it. Even if it takes a bit more money to improve food, this will be saved by reducing food waste, and getting people better quicker.I'm happy to say that the Food For Life Partnership, which the Soil Association leads, is now working with 20% of schools in England to transform food culture. We take a 'whole school' approach, improving the food served but also promoting cooking and growing skills and integrating food into the curriculum. You can find out more about the project at - it's a great!

Wendy Irvine
24 November 2012 17:09

I am an RGN and for years I have felt that we do our best to treat patients, some admitted with chemical imbalances due to poor diet. Some patients are required to have special diets,low sodium, gluten free etc, because of their conditions and yet hospitals cannot accommodate this because of the lack of expertise in dietetics in the kitchen. We have always had to ask patients on gluten free diets to bring in their own food whilst in hospital. I think essential health comes from what you eat and all schools and hospitals should be seriously using Scarborough as an example.

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