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More than 10 tonnes of food goes to waste at Royal Surrey each year

Royal Surrey Hospital

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Harriet Clugston at 6:00am 11th January 2019. (Updated at 6:13pm 11th January 2019)

More than 10 tonnes of hospital meals are going straight in the bin every year at the Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, figures show.

According to NHS data, the trust recorded 244kg of unserved food going to waste over one seven-day period in March 2018 - the equivalent of 12.7 tonnes every year.

The figure covers just the excess meals left on the trolley at the end of a meal service, and does not include food that patients leave on their plates when they have finished eating.

It includes starters, main meals and desserts during lunch and dinner, but does not include breakfast.

Tanya Klopper, Head of Dietetics at Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Good nutrition is such an important part of patient recovery and so we’ve worked closely with our Medirest colleagues who provide the catering service at the Trust to ensure that we offer a varied choice of nutritionally balanced meals.

“Importantly, with the pre-plated meals we now use, all patients are consistently receiving the required nutrition and portion sizes.

"We regularly meet with the catering team to monitor food waste, assess patient feedback and ensure a good variety of meal options is offered.

"We ensure that we cater for all cultural diets, allergies and intolerances and texture modifications.”

Gareth Donaldson, Medirest Contract Director, said:

“The figures stated actually refer to the period during which the Trust offered a ‘from scratch’ meal service and it was the combination of patients wanting greater choice and higher waste levels that drove us to explore alternative options.

"We were keen to ensure that there was minimum food waste, while offering the greatest possible range of nutritionally balanced meals.

“Since introducing fresh, pre-plated meals in May 2018, we have seen a decrease in food waste. Feedback has also improved as patients can now order their meals nearer to when they are going to eat them, which further reduces food wastage.

“Food waste now runs between only one to three per cent so we are delighted that the introduction of these meals has been a success.”

The Government has announced a ten-year plan for the NHS, which includes a commitment to tackle waste.

However, more than 7,130 tonnes worth of meals are currently going in the bin across the NHS in England every year, the data suggests.

Food waste is a "big problem" in the NHS, according to the food and farming charity Soil Association, which campaigns for better food in hospitals.

Rob Percival, policy officer at the Soil Association, said it is often linked to the method NHS trusts use for catering services.

Many rely on pre-prepared meals that are delivered to sites which may not have the freezer capacity to keep any surplus, he explained.

Mr Percival said:

"Trusts should be investing in fresh preparation of meals as opposed to bulk purchasing, which gives catering staff a greater degree of control.

"Then you won't be dealing with the scenario where you have 1,000 plated meals delivered but you only have 300 orders from patients and the rest goes in the bin."

Maisie Borrows, research manager at the Reform think tank, said:

"These figures are just the tip of the iceberg and highlight the need for reform.

"All NHS hospitals should strive to be as efficient as the ‘best-in-class’, looking at improving efficiency by harnessing technology and insight from data.”

The NHS Digital figures reveal that the trust spent £2 million on food services in the 12 months to March, including labour, delivery and management costs.

During this time, there were 530,850 meals requested by patients.

This would give an average cost of £11.26 per patient for a three-meal day, if no meals were wasted, compared to an England-wide average of £12.59.

According to Mr Percival, the quality of hospital meals could also contribute to a higher degree of waste as patients are more likely to leave leftovers.

He has urged trusts across the country to focus on offering appetising and nutritious meals using high-quality ingredients.

Mr Percival added:

"Adequate nutrition is important for a patient’s recovery and a huge amount of plate waste is generated because food is of a low quality - ready-made, reheatable meals that are highly unappetising.

"It sends a pretty disappointing message about the importance of food to health.

"If the NHS is supposed to be the beacon of health, they should be modelling this."

A spokeswoman for NHS Improvement said:

“While there will be legitimate reasons why NHS trusts spend different amounts on food, ensuring that all patients receive high-quality meals is the priority.

“We have recently launched a Healthcare Food Standards Strategy group to support trusts and drive improvement.”

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