Collaborating with health care caterers to create Healthy Food Environments

On Friday 21st April 2023, I had the honour of delivering a keynote speech at the Health Caterers Association (HCA) Forum 2023, alongside Sprink’s CEO, Dr Thomas Kelley. We were invited by Phil Shelley, Chair of the Independent Review of NHS Hospital, who convened the conference on behalf of the HCA, which is the most significant gathering for hospital catering professionals in the UK. It was an excellent platform to share the Global Centre for Healthy Food Environment’s vision for transforming food in healthcare settings.

The morning workshops focussed on pressing issues in health care food environments, including 24/7 access to food for hospital staff and the vital role that catering plays in staff wellbeing. It was encouraging to see private and public sector organisations working together to develop solutions to these challenges. For example, by collaborating on providing food for hospital staff around the clock and through initiatives such as the NHS Chef’s Academy, providing much-needed investment in the training of these vital staff. It was also brilliant to hear Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, share her perspective from the farming community on supplying produce to health care organisations.

In our talk about Healthy Food Environments, we contextualised health care catering in the broader picture of the global food system. We outlined three huge challenges we face internationally which are partly driven by the food system: 1) a public health crisis, 2) the climate and biodiversity emergency, 3) worker and animal welfare challenges. We then focussed on health care to describe specific challenges for international health care systems. These challenges include preventing disease at a population level, addressing the crisis in health care staff wellbeing, and urgently making progress towards the net zero targets set by many governments. Finally, we outlined how the Global Centre for Healthy Food Environments can help organisations to meet these challenges, through membership of the Global Centre, participating in our online training programme, or providing bespoke support with implementation or research.

During the conference, we had the pleasure of meeting fantastic people and had engaging conversations about what’s been achieved so far and opportunities for further progress in this area. We left feeling energised about the future and the role the Global Centre for Healthy Food Environments can play in shaping it.

Edward Maile is Associate Director of the Global Centre for Healthy Food Environments, an NHS GP, and an Honorary Clinical Research Fellow at Imperial College London.

Ed Maile

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