Hospital food: Unison survey highlights unappetising reality of nurses’ mealtimes

Union hits out at poor facilities and lack of basics like water and healthy snacks

Union hits out at poor facilities and lack of basics like water and healthy snacks

Not all staff can enjoy nutritious meals like this while at work. Picture: Barney Newman

What’s on the menu for your break today – if you get a break, that is?

More than a quarter of hospital staff have no dedicated eating area or must put up with inadequate kitchens and microwaves, a Unison survey suggests.

Poor food preparation areas

The poll highlighted a host of problems familiar to nursing staff in hospitals, including lack of free drinking water and nutritious meals during nightshifts.

The survey found 71% of staff who eat at work said food preparation areas fall short of expectations, with 40% rating facilities as ‘bad’.

Additionally, 26% of staff said they had no dedicated area where they can eat.

More survey findings 

  • 32% of respondents said vending machines do not offer nutritious snacks
  • 16% said on-site restaurants and shops do not stock nutritious snacks
  • 12% have no access to free drinking water
  • 28% cannot buy food on-site that meets their religious or other dietary needs
  • 61% said the high cost of nutritious food is the biggest barrier to eating healthily


    Unison members are discussing the issue of hospital food at their annual health conference in Bournemouth this week.

    ‘Staff need nourishment to recharge’

    The union's head of health Sara Gorton said staff, as well as patients and visitors, need food that is heathy and reasonably priced.

    ‘Patients who are ill need nutritious and appealing meals to help them recover. Busy staff also need nourishing choices and proper breaks so they can recharge on hectic shifts,' she said.

    ‘The NHS is failing in its responsibility to look after the well-being of its employees. Healthy options should be made available 24-hours a day and better food standards enforced.’

    Unison conducted the survey in December 2018 among members in England, attracting 353 responses. Ninety-nine per cent of respondents worked in the NHS and 32% were nurses or midwives. 

    NHS England has been invited to comment.

    In other news

    This is a free article for registered users

    This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this? You can register for free access.