New guidelines unveiled by NHS Scotland on hospital catering may legally oblige hospitals to serve nutritional meals to patients.
Health Secretary Alex Neil unveiled the guidelines which are due to go to consultation in January and have received widespread support from MSPs across the board.
The proposals consist of three key points, the first of which looked to improve nutrition standards by the new year followed up by inspections.
The second main point in the guidelines was a proposal to place the standards in statutory footing and the final point was to provide an additional £300,000 to the boards to implement this.
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and health spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: “It’s good to see the Scottish Government waking up to this important issue. I would encourage every health board to listen carefully to the feedback from patients and relatives to help improve hospital meals.
“I await with interest the new guidelines, and I urge ministers to raise their ambitions for the quality of food served in our hospitals. We should take this opportunity to focus on using more local and fresh ingredients, and we should continually involve patients in a review of the menus.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats also welcomed the announcement. The Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Jim Hume MSP said: “The SNP are playing catch up on hospital food but this announcement is welcome, if long overdue. We know that there are a number of easy steps that could be taken to ensure that patients at our hospitals are getting healthier meals while they receive treatment.
“Confirmation that we are to get new guidelines is a victory for campaigners and for the patients who have no alternative but to eat hospital food while they receive care. Now we need to see SNP Ministers give NHS boards the resources they need to improve meals and ensure that robust quality checks are in place.”
Welcoming the Scottish Government consultation on hospital food standards, 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 they while they’re in hospital, we help to provide the nutrition these patients need to help in their recovery.
“Hospitals have a responsibility to ensure that what they serve to patients is both healthy and palatable. In recent years, the NHS has made some progress to improve mealtimes for patients, but there is still room for improvement, with a focus on the nutritional value of the meals offered to patients.
“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 to them 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.
“While getting the menu right is important, it is by no means the only challenge. We also need to ensure that patients – particularly the elderly – get the help they need to eat their meals.
“Patients deserve the best care we can offer them when they come into hospital. We should be doing all we can to aid in their recovery, helping them to get back home and nutrition is an important part of that process. Action to improve hospital catering for patients would be welcome and I would also like to see that extended to providing hot, nutritious food to staff working in our hospitals round-the-clock seven days a week.”