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Nurses need hot meals while on duty: employers told to do more

Access for nurses to hot, healthy meals – especially for those on night shifts – is vital for combating fatigue and providing safe care, union says
Picture shows a nurse in a canteen putting food onto her plate

Access for nurses to hot, healthy meals – especially for those on night shifts – is vital for combating fatigue and providing safe care, union says

Employers must do more to ensure that nurses can get hot and healthy meals while on duty, a health union says.

Unison is urging NHS hospitals to improve food provision on-site – especially for those working nights – amid concerns that a lack of facilities is affecting nurses’ ability to do their jobs.

The union said access to healthy meals is vital for combating fatigue and providing safe care.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘ NHS staff need access to decent food to keep them sustained when they’re on lengthy shifts.

Access for nurses to hot, healthy meals – especially for those on night shifts – is vital for combating fatigue and providing safe care, union says

Picture shows a nurse in a canteen putting food onto her plate
Picture: Barney Newman

Employers must do more to ensure that nurses can get hot and healthy meals while on duty, a health union says.

Unison is urging NHS hospitals to improve food provision on-site – especially for those working nights – amid concerns that a lack of facilities is affecting nurses’ ability to do their jobs.

The union said access to healthy meals is vital for combating fatigue and providing safe care.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: NHS staff need access to decent food to keep them sustained when they’re on lengthy shifts.

‘It’s even more important with increased pressure on services and workforce shortages that staff can find healthy eating options while on duty and find places to rest on breaks.

‘Employers should be doing all they can to ensure nurses and all other workers within the NHS are properly nourished so they can give the best quality care.’

Food provision in NHS hospitals and mental health settings is poor, survey shows

The call follows a survey of junior doctors by the British Medical Association (BMA), which suggests food provision in NHS hospitals and mental health settings is poor, with only a small proportion offering freshly prepared meals or hot snacks for staff after 11pm.

The BMA is urging NHS employers to honour commitments to its Fatigue and Facilities charter launched in England in 2018 – and other similar pledges in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The charter recommends that trusts serve hot food for breakfast, lunch and dinner with provision staying open until 11pm and a further two hours during the night where possible.

A Unison survey of more than 8,500 NHS staff carried out earlier this year found lack of – or poor quality – food on site was affecting the quality of care.

No access to a staff canteen after 8pm – many say being hungry or thirsty affects quality of work

Nurses and others who took part said they were often unable to eat healthily during shifts, with many reporting they did not have access to a staff canteen after 8pm or there was no staff restaurant. More than three quarters or 78% on nights said being hungry or thirsty affected the quality of their work at times.

Guidance on staff welfare facilities published by the NHS Staff Council in 2021 says shift workers – particularly those working nights – should have access to hot and healthy food.

As a minimum they should have access to a fridge and a microwave to heat their own food, the guidance states.

NHS Employers director of development and employment Caroline Waterfield said: ‘Supporting the well-being needs of our people is a very high priority for employers. Lack of access to basic well-being needs such as healthy food have been identified as a major concern for NHS staff well-being and patient safety.

‘NHS trusts have been working hard to ensure staff have access to healthy food at all times, including trusts piloting 24/7 healthy food vending machines and others bringing in a “well-being trolley” for staff working on wards who may find it hard to leave clinical areas.’


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