Hospital nurses survive on a diet of fast food, survey reveals

Takeaways and fizzy pop don’t make for a healthy workforce, says union boss

Poor quality hospital food risks the health of NHS workers, a survey from Unison and the Campaign for Better Hospital Food warns.

The survey reveals nurses and other health employees are being forced to resort to fast food or vending machine snacks at work, all of which are high in fat, salt and sugar.

A total of 3,650 NHS employees responded – more than a quarter (29%) of whom work night shifts – yet almost half (49%) of hospital canteens close before 8pm.

The quality of food given to patients fares little better, with just over half of respondents admitting they would not be prepared to eat it themselves.

Food cooked on site rates better than that prepared elsewhere, with nine in ten (86%) saying they receive negative comments from patients about food supplied from outside the hospital.

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food is an initiative run by Sustain, an alliance which advocates better food and farming practices. It has been working with Unison to improve hospital catering.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis called for an ‘urgent overhaul’ of NHS food and said of night shift workers: ‘Nurses and other NHS workers often have no choice but to resort to meals that are high in salt, fat and sugar. Takeaways and fizzy pop don’t make for a healthy workforce.’

Campaign for Better Hospital Food policy officer Katherine Button, added: ‘This report into the state of staff food has our full support, and the results make clear that much more needs to be done to drive up the quality of food in NHS hospitals.’

She welcomed NHS England’s latest health and wellbeing targets – including a proposed 20% sugar tax – as ‘a positive step in the right direction’.

The survey findings mirror the content of RCNi's Eat Well, Nurse Well campaign, which was launched in 2014 to help nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants adopt the healthiest possible lifestyles.

The campaign followed calls from NHS England for employers to help staff lose weight, and recent guidance from the Department of Health that sets new rules for hospital canteens relating to the salt, sugar and fat content of their meals.