Health Service Focus

20.01.16

‘Healthy hubs’ for hospitals

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 16

Kate Bull, executive director of retail at the Royal Voluntary Service, explains why the charity is taking an early lead to encourage healthy eating across the NHS.

At last year’s NHS Innovation Expo Conference, Simon Stevens announced his £5m major drive to improve the health and wellbeing of NHS staff. You may remember the ‘zumba class’ and ‘yoga class’ headlines in newspapers at the time. 

But now the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), one of the biggest retailers in hospitals across the UK, has its own plans to bring about more healthy eating in the NHS. 

The charity, which provides a range of services to allow older people to remain independent, has started transforming all its hospital cafes, shops and trolley services into ‘hubs for healthy eating’. It hopes to be finished by March 2017. 

Scotland setting the agenda

For the last year, RVS has been transforming its offer to meet the Scottish government’s new framework for healthcare buildings, which sets out mandatory standards for healthy eating. 

Kate Bull, executive director of retail at RVS, told NHE: “There are very strict guidelines about what you can sell, and what they class as healthy and unhealthy products. 

“So, they have very strict guidelines within cafes. For instance, 70% of everything we sell or have on offer has to fit in with what they class as a healthy product. Those are products within Scotland that are predominantly low in salt, sugar and fat. It has meant a complete re-look at what we sell. For example, we now sell low-fat sausages for breakfast. 

“In shops, as opposed to cafes, it is a 50-50 rule: 50% of what we sell has to be healthy living. That has meant, as an organisation, we have looked at meal deals, which have traditionally been a can of fizzy drink, a bag of crisps and a sandwich. We are now trying to make those a healthy option, so it is a bottle of water, a piece of fruit and a sandwich with low salt content. So, as a consumer, you can still buy a meal deal, but it conforms with the healthy living standards.” 

This has involved working with suppliers to adapt products and menus. But rather than just focusing on changing its services north of the border, the charity has decided to roll out the transformation programme across its entire UK estate. 

Over the next year, as part of a phased introduction, staff, patients and visitors across the NHS will see the introduction of new menus and healthy, nutritious options at fair prices across RVS hospital locations, said Bull. 

Not penalising healthy eating 

Bull added that because the concept is new in England and Wales, “there is still some concern” about whether people will be able to buy ‘healthy’ at a reasonable price. But she is confident the new-look facilities can deliver. 

The first flagship cafe will open at Royal Bournemouth Hospital in spring 2016, followed by a new concept store at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. “In Bournemouth, we are providing healthy food at a very reasonable price,” said Bull. “It is in the same remit as the old prices. For instance, on the cafe menu at Bournemouth you could have a breakfast roll with low-fat sausages for £2.50. I think that is pretty good value. We are not penalising people because they want to eat healthily; we are trying to encourage them to eat healthy.” 

RVS will also trial a number of initiatives, including a newspaper that discusses NHS healthy living, to drive encouragement and take-up. 

“We don’t want this to be a chore for people, where they say ‘there is nothing I can eat’. What we are trying to say is that you can eat all of these things, they’re lovely and they are good value,” said Bull. 

Discussing the complexity of the programme, Bull, a former commercial executive at Marks & Spencer, added that if this change was attempted on the high street, within the timescale laid out, it would make a splash in the newspapers. 

She is also confident that the growing trend towards healthy eating on the high street can, and should, be made “easily accessible” for consumers in hospitals. Additionally, RVS has committed to maintaining competitive prices, while providing “excellent value for money”.  

“And we believe this is the right thing to do,” said Bull. “Our desire is driven by what we want to do, which is enriching the lives of older people in particular. But, as we operate in hospitals, it will be enriching the lives of all the people who come into contact with us.”

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