Clause 126 - Hospital food standards

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 26 October 2021.

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Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 4:30, 26 October 2021

I beg to move amendment 137, in clause 126, page 107, line 18, leave out “hospital”.

This amendment would make the power to impose food standards applicable to all premises within the remit of the Care Quality Commission, rather than just hospitals.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 138, in clause 126, page 107, line 28, leave out paragraph (c).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 137.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 4:45, 26 October 2021

It is a pleasure to speak on the important topic of hospital food standards. We very much support the substance of the clause, and its inclusion in the Bill. What we consume before, during and after we engage with a hospital can have a profound impact and long-lasting effects on the ailment that brought us there, and affects our experience while we are there.

Even prior to being in hospital, malnutrition is a feature in many people’s lives. It affects about 3 million people in the UK, and health and social care expenditure on malnutrition is estimated at more than £23 billion a year across the UK. Around one in 10, or 1.3 million, older people are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, and older people are disproportionately represented in malnourished groups. Of course, malnutrition plays a significant role in hospital admissions; around one in three patients admitted to hospital are malnourished, or at risk of becoming so.

This is the right time to act on this issue. We ought to expect that a person’s time in hospital will be used as well as possible, and what a person consumes while they are there should be seen as part of their care, reablement and rehabilitation. It is a good idea to make sure that our hospitals promote that view, and we therefore support the clause. Our amendments 137 and 138 would improve it, and I hope to find the Minister in listening mode on this.

The whole point of the Bill is that while hospitals are one element of our health and social care system, there are many other places in the system that people are more likely to find themselves in. They may be in community-based care facilities, in step-up or step-down care, or a care home, which could be their permanent home. We argue that anything within the purview of the Care Quality Commission ought to adhere to the standards set out in the clause. The evidence bears that out. Somewhere between a third and 40% of patients admitted to care homes, and one in five patients admitted to a mental health unit, are at risk of malnutrition, so clearly they would need this sort of support.

For those in long-term care settings, nutrition is a vital part of their care. Research has shown the importance of good nutrition to people with dementia; it slows the loss of independence or functional decline. Research shows that nearly 30% of dementia patients experience malnutrition, and that is associated with a much more rapid functional decline over five years. It is really important that we make sure this provision is in place for them; it is fundamental to their life and their future.

Of course, the issue with the two amendments and the clause is resourcing. I am interested to hear from the Minister how the Government intend to resource the clause, because we do not want pressure on hospital settings—and settings in the community, if our amendments are accepted—to make cuts elsewhere. It would be a pyrrhic victory if the clause led to better nutrition but worse care. We need to see the measures as not only the right thing to do—of course, it is what individuals should expect when in the care of the state—but a good investment that will bring us a good return. This is an important issue, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

As matters stand, the enforcement of standards for food and drink in hospital is not on a statutory footing. That has resulted in variance in compliance across the sector. The clause will grant the Secretary of State the power to make regulations imposing requirements and improved standards for food and drink provided and sold on NHS hospital premises in England to patients, staff, visitors or anyone else on the premises. As the hon. Gentleman set out, providing good-quality, nutritious food is a cornerstone of patient care, and placing these requirements on a statutory footing will ensure a level playing field when it comes to compliance across the sector with nutritional standards in hospitals.

The Care Quality Commission will ensure that any requirements in regulations made under the clause are fulfilled, pursuant to its existing statutory powers of enforcement under the Health and Social Care Act 2008. The clause demonstrates that we are committed to acting on a key recommendation from the independent review of NHS hospital food, published in October 2020, to ensure that hospital food standards are enshrined in law and sufficiently enforced .

To address amendments 137 and 138, as I have set out, the clause has been drafted specifically in response to the independent review of NHS hospital food, which was published on 26 October 2020. That independent review was announced in August 2019, following the deaths of six people linked to an outbreak of listeria in contaminated food in hospitals. The review’s aims were to improve public confidence in hospital food by setting out clear ambitions for delivering high-quality food to patients and the public. The review was intentionally limited to hospitals only because specific issues had been identified in relation to hospital foods that necessitated a prompt and meaningful response by the Government.

The report was prepared following considerable research, investigation, hospital visits and expert advice from within and outside the NHS specifically in relation to the provision of hospital food. The review recommended that ambitious NHS food and drink standards for patients, staff and visitors be put on a statutory footing. We support that recommendation and have included the clause in the Bill because we believe that giving the Secretary of State powers to place hospital food standards on a statutory footing sends a clear message about the importance of standards for the provision of good hydration and nutrition in the NHS. Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of good nutrition in recovery and rehabilitation, were such a reminder needed.

I reassure hon. Members that the Government are committed to the health and wellbeing of patients in all healthcare settings. Each setting presents unique issues and challenges. Although there may be some common themes, if the clause were to be broadened beyond hospitals, the provision of food in other healthcare settings would need to be researched, investigated and carefully considered in the context of those individual settings and in consultation with their service users and stakeholders to ensure that the legislation was fit for purpose and met their individual needs. Challenges affecting the provision of food in other healthcare settings were not considered as part of the scope for the independent review of hospital food. Therefore, although there are common themes, we cannot be sure that the amendment would adequately and fully meet their needs and requirements.

The recommendations from the review, and the introduction of the clause, form a key part of our policy to improve public confidence in hospital food. I commend the intention behind the amendments to expand the clause to capture all premises within the remit of the Care Quality Commission.

The CQC already has some important powers over other healthcare settings. The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 provide the CQC with powers to prosecute providers that do not provide people in their care with nutrition and hydration to sustain life and good health and reduce the risks of malnutrition and dehydration while they receive care and treatment. That power ensures that basic nutrition standards are provided.

The clause goes further and is not about basic provision. The root-and-branch independent review made recommendations on how NHS trusts could prioritise food safety and provide more nutritious meals to staff and patients. The clause is a key component of our plan to fulfil the recommendations of the review. I reassure hon. Members that the CQC remains vigilant about the provision of nutrition and hydration in other healthcare settings, as evidenced by the CQC’s powers.

For these reasons, I urge the hon. Member for Nottingham North not to press the amendments. Ultimately, the clause cements the Government’s commitment to patients in this regard and sends a clear message about the role that food plays in patient care and recovery. I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I appreciate the Minister’s response. I understand that the genesis of the clause was a hospital setting. The case that the Minister mentioned was exceptionally serious, and it is right that action was taken, but I feel that there is a slight lack of ambition to say that the activity must stop at hospitals—it is a slightly blinkered approach. I heard the point that extending the provision to broader care settings would take research and careful consideration. I probably support that principle, but I would like to have heard that that process is under way, and I did not hear that.

At the end of the day, the goalposts do not move that much. Basic nutritional and hydration standards are either being met or they are not. Taking the learning from hospital settings should have made it easier to widen the process, rather than harder. The point that the CQC inspects those settings is true and fair. It is also true of hospital settings. Setting some standards would probably have been prudent. I will not press the amendment, but I think we will return to the issue at some point. I hope the Minister and his officials will reflect on the opportunity to go further with the provision .

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am always happy to reflect on the sensible suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I am grateful for that and, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 126 ordered to stand part of the Bill.