NHS Doctors and Nurses running on (nearly) empty

Wednesday, 24 February 2016
  • Woman with fruit and vegetablesA lack of healthy food and drink in hospitals is impacting the diets of health professionals
  • Doctors and nurses have just one or two meals a day — with most skipping meals and snacking through shifts
  • More than one in five admit their diet has worsened in the last year
  • Royal Voluntary Service is adapting the products it serves through its hospital cafés, shops and trolley services to ensure healthy and nutritious options are readily available – an initiative supported by Jamie Oliver

A lack of healthy food and drinks in hospitals is turning NHS workers across the UK to quick snacks and sugar fixes to see them through long shifts.

Our new study reveals the majority of doctors and nurses working in the NHS are running on just one or two meals a day — with most regularly skipping meals (80%) and snacking instead (76%).

As longer shifts and work pressures take their toll, half of doctors and nurses (49%) interviewed admit they simply “grab what they can, when they can” – but the issue is there aren’t many healthy options available in the hospital they work in (52%).

With this in mind, Royal Voluntary Service has launched its Healthy Choices initiative. The charity — which is the biggest hospital retailer in England, Scotland and Wales — is taking an early lead on NHS England’s workforce health and wellbeing drive by transforming all of its hospital cafés, shops and trolley services into hubs for healthy eating.

Revealing the daily eating habits of NHS doctors and nurses, the study found in a typical working day staff eat just two portions of fruit and vegetables and drink around half a litre of water – both falling short of recommended guidelines. While snacks, such as sweets and cakes (21%), chocolate (19%), crisps (17%) and fizzy drinks (12%) are consumed on a regular basis.

The findings come as NHS England is proposing to introduce a 20% tax on all sugary drinks and foods in all NHS hospitals and health centres in England by 2020, to help tackle the growing problem of obesity.

When asked to rate their diet, nearly one in five doctor and nurses (18%) admit they have a poor diet and a further 22 per cent say it has worsened in the last 12 months.

But nurses appear to have it worse, with more than a third (35%) surviving on just one meal a day — and as a result, are significantly more likely to skip meals and snack. When compared to doctors, they are twice as likely to describe their diet as ‘very poor’ and to say the quality of their diet at work has declined in the last year.

Sharing the same view as NHS Chief Simon Stevens, most doctors and nurses (78%) want to see healthier options introduced and believe these would have a positive effect on their overall diet (62%). However, although a significant proportion3 have noted an increasing number of fast food outlets opening on hospital premises, close to two fifths (38%) don’t mind, so long as there is a balance of food options to choose from.

The first flagship new-look café from Royal Voluntary Service has opened this month at Royal Bournemouth Hospital in Dorset, with a new concept store at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh to follow. The full roll out of the Healthy Choices programme across England, Scotland and Wales, which will see a phased introduction of new menus and healthy nutritious options, is likely to be complete by March 2017.

"For the first time ever, poor diet has overtaken smoking as the biggest single cause of life-style related illness. Workforce health is a major priority for NHS England and it’s important that the food and drink options for hospital staff and visitors are healthy and nutritious.

“This is why we are revising the products we offer in hospitals in our cafés, shops and on our trolleys — to make sure there is plenty of choice available. In areas with our presence, we are committed to ensuring that hospital staff and visitors will have their pick of delicious, freshly prepared meals and snacks using local and seasonal produce – even when in a rush."

Kate Bull, Executive Director of Retail for Royal Voluntary Service

"When it comes to food on offer in hospitals, it doesn’t make sense that there's such a poor choice of food and so many vending machines in a place where people are supposed to be getting better, not unhealthier. I completely support the Royal Voluntary Service in this important move."

Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and healthy food campaigner

"There’s a groundswell of public concern on obesity, and the NHS is on the hook for this multi-billion pound epidemic. So it’s great to see one of the biggest NHS hospital retailers taking clear action. Others must now follow the Royal Voluntary Service’s lead, do the responsible thing and provide more tasty, healthy and affordable alternatives."

Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive

For further information

Royal Voluntary Service is one of the largest volunteering charities in Britain powered by more than 35,000 volunteers who regularly provide practical help to over 100,000 older people in their homes, communities and in hospitals.

To become a local volunteer search for volunteering opportunities in your area. Or help make a difference by making a secure online donation.

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