The Government will force NHS Trusts in England to make food and drink available to healthcare workers round the clock if Trusts fail to deliver the national standards introduced last year.
The health minister Neil O’Brien said he would “not hesitate” to use the powers he has under legislation to mandate the adoption of food and drink standards in hospitals.
This commitment comes following pressure by the Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper, who raised in Parliament the findings of a study into junior doctors’ wellbeing at work by the medical defence organisation MDDUS.
MDDUS is campaigning for doctors to have better access to food at work after its recent survey of its health professional members revealed that one in three junior doctors aged between 25-34 years old are rarely or never able to buy nutritious food at work. These doctors said the impact of being hungry at work includes heightening the chance of them making clinical errors and, they say, is putting patient safety at risk.
The National Standards for healthcare food and drink were introduced by NHS England in November last year following an investigation into the quality and availability of meals for staff and patients in hospitals. The standards state that NHS organisations must be able to show that they have suitable food provision in place, including retail, auto cafes and smart fridges.
When asked if the Government will make it policy to mandate minimum standards of availability and access to out-of-hours food for food, Neil O'Brien MP said: "The Health and Care Act 2022 gives the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care the power to introduce secondary legislation mandating the national food and drink standards in the NHS. The Government will not hesitate to use this power if needed."
Chris Kenny, chief executive at MDDUS, said: “The National Standards document states that round-the-clock food and drink provision for doctors should already be in place, but it's clear from listening to our members that this is not the case.
“Junior doctors already carry a heavy mental load due to working long hours in stressful environments. At a time when we know doctors’ morale is low, they shouldn’t have to worry about when they will have their next meal.
“A tired, hungry doctor is more at risk of making mistakes, and ultimately, patients will suffer.
“It’s encouraging to see that the concerns of our members are being taken seriously by Government. Decisive action is needed to prevent our doctors from going hungry at work.”
Daisy Cooper MP (St Albans), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health and Social Care, said: "NHS staff are overworked and understaffed - the very least they should have is access to good food and drink when they are on shift.
“Record waiting times cannot be brought down unless staff wellbeing and working conditions improve.
“The Government finally appears to be taking this issue seriously. If it does legislate, if will need to give hospitals the resources to put these facilities in place as soon as possible. For front-line staff, access to round-the-clock food and drink provision can’t come soon enough.”
*Dr Billy Wilson, 34, anaesthetist who works in the north of England, said: “I have experienced times during a night shift when I’ve felt as hungry as it’s possible to be at work, but I have so much to do there’s no time to find something to eat.
“Doctors’ responsibilities don’t change when they are working out of hours, so our need for food to eat and places to rest where we work don’t change either.”
The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) is a mutual organisation that protects the professional interests of more than 56,000 doctors and dentists across the United Kingdom, offering access to indemnity, support and legal advice.
The opinion pollster Survation questioned 850 members of the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS), a clinical defence organisation that represents 56,000 health professionals across the UK.
- 32% said they are rarely or never able to purchase nutritious food while working.
- 77% of junior said they have experienced burnout at work.
- 39% of those experiencing burnout cited lack of access to nutritious food as a contributing factor.
- 51% said they have felt fatigued due to a lack of access to nutritious food.
- 16% said they are considering leaving the profession due to a lack of access to nutritious food.
- 19% cited lack of access to nutritious food as a reason they wouldn’t recommend healthcare as a career to a school leaver.
- 61% have had to work more hours in a week than they considered safe.
- 70% said they had to work when they were more tired than they considered safe.
- 35% said there is no safe comfortable space for them to rest on their break.
- 60% of all respondents said they would not recommend a healthcare career to a school leaver.
- 66% felt that when they worked tired patient safety was at risk.
*The comment quoted is from an MDDUS member who responded to our survey in September 2022.
For further information, please contact Caroline English, communications manager, on email@example.com or 07741 237856.
This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.