Health chief tells NHS to 'put its own house in order'

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England
03/09/2015 - 07:24
Fast food chains are to be banned from opening in hospital grounds and catering contractors to the NHS will be required to raise the standards of food and nutrition, in a bid to tackle the UK’s growing obesity crisis.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, has told the health service to ‘put its house in order’ by ensuring hospitals are not adding to the obesity crisis by serving up unhealthy food, during a speech at the NHS Innovation Expo yesterday.

Stevens plans form part of a £5 million, three pillar initiative, which was launched yesterday. The three pillars include, improving NHS staff health, creating an occupational health service for GPs and challenging catering contractors and PFI providers to raise food and nutrition standards.

NHS England is set to meet with the major hospital catering vendors and PFI contractors to dicuss how to ensure that the NHS leads the way in offering healthy food to its staff and patients.

Catering contractors will be urged to provide healthier choices for staff, by including fruit rather than confectionary in discounted meal deals for example, and to work to reshape their overall offer.

Calls for food and drink offered in vending machines to be replaced with healthy options have also intensified, as well as a push for organisations to ensure that they are providing easily understandable nutritional information and appropriate portion sizes.

Stevens said: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.

“Equally, its time for PFI contractors and catering firms to ‘smell the coffee’ - ditch junk food from hospitals and serve up affordable and healthy options instead. Staff, patients and visitors alike will all benefit.”

Stevens has also started a major drive to improve the health and wellbeing of the 1.3 million health service staff, in a bid to benefit both staff and taxpayers.

Public Health England estimates that NHS staff absences costs around £2.4bn a year and the two biggest causes of sickness absence is mental health and musculoskeletal problems.

Staff will be given the option of healthier foods within the hospitals restaurants, cafés and vending machines, as well as access to exercise classes including running, yoga and Zumba.

Susannah McWilliam of the Soil Association said: “Hospitals have historically struggled with complex contracts for staff and visitor food - prioritizing profit over health and operating without a conscience.

“Unhealthy, processed, sugary food should not be widely available in hospitals - when it has been recognised that good food can play a vital role in supporting staff health and wellbeing.”

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: “The public sector should be the standard bearer for workforce health. The positive steps the NHS is taking to systematically improve the health and wellbeing of its workforce, including better access to occupational health, encouraging more physical activity and healthier food options, will have tickle down benefits for the health and wellbeing of the wider population.

“The money saved on reducing staff sickness can be spent on services for the public and the healthier habits picked up by the public sector employees can be passed on to the people they serve.”
 

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