Improved standards in the quality of food served to people in hospital will be introduced in the new year, Scotland’s health secretary Alex Neil pledged.
The shake-up will include a tougher inspection regime as well as a consultation on whether to introduce a legal duty on health boards to serve patients good-quality hospital meals – making Scotland the first country in the UK to do so if the proposal were approved.
There will also be a further £300,000 invested to help health boards improve nutritional care on top of funding of more than £1.75 million the Scottish Government said it had provided since 2008.
Ministers confirmed that the £300,000 would be used to implement the new standards in Scottish hospitals, as the scheme was announced yesterday.
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The new guidelines will be published in January, with the rules set to cover nutritional and dietary requirements. Mr Neil said: “We have been working on these new guidelines for some time as part of an ongoing review of nutritional standards.
“This is part of a package of measures that will help to ensure that hospital food continues to improve, that NHS boards have the appropriate amount of support and advice that they need to deliver these improvements, and that we have an even stronger inspection process.”
The plan was welcomed by the British Medical Association (BMA), which said poor-quality food served to patients can lead to longer hospital stays.
However, the BMA – the group that represents the UK’s medical profession – called on health authorities to limit the sale of sugary and fatty snacks in hospitals, such as crisps and chocolate sold from trolleys in wards, as well from vending machines. Dr Lewis Morrison, member of the BMA’s Scottish council, said: “A significant number of patients admitted to hospitals in Scotland are undernourished, many of whom are aged over 65.
“This can contribute to prolonged ill-health, clinical complications, delayed recovery and therefore longer hospital stays, so it is important that while they’re in hospital, we help to provide the nutrition these patients need.”
Dr Morrison added: “However, it is not just in hospital kitchens – if they still exist – where hospitals can improve on catering. Patients can be found enjoying crisps, sweets and unhealthy fizzy drinks all sold from trolleys on the wards or in concessions on the hospital premises.
“Hospital corridors are littered with vending machines selling high sugar, high fat food and drink to patients, visitors and staff. These unhealthy foods are supplementing the poor quality of hospital food.”
Ministers also faced calls to make more funds available for the improvements and to ensure hospital food inspections on wards were unannounced.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “We still believe that unannounced inspections of catering facilities is the best way to ensure standards are raised, and I look forward to seeing more detail on this.”
She added: “[While] £300,000 is a response of sorts … it smacks of being more of a response to uncomfortable headlines rather than a budget to tackle the issue comprehensively.”
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