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NHS Trusts / Senior Care / 10.01.2020

A spoonful of sugar doesn’t help the medicine go down

By Lisa Baker, Registered Dietitian, Compass UK&I Healthcare

The NHS is designed and mandated to keep us healthy — so it makes sense that the NHS has significant targets for achieving public wellbeing. Putting the health and wellbeing of the British public first, however, can at times mean going against what the public believe they want. And, in the case of food outlets within a hospital environment, people are consuming a lot more spoonfuls of sugar than is healthy. 

In a time where obesity-related illness is on the rise, the challenge of improving public wellbeing through better food choices is one we embrace rapidly and wholeheartedly. But as a retailer operating high-street brand food outlets it can be a challenge. Both staff and visitors in hospitals are typically looking for either comfort food or an energy boost — during long hours and stressful times, this typically means high-sugar, high-fat foods.

That’s why the introduction of Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) was such a transformative change in the world of hospital retailing. One of them, CQUIN Indicator 1b focuses on providing healthy food for NHS staff, visitors and patients — even though these customers might otherwise be tempted to reach for something less than nutritious.

As part of our value offering to the NHS, we embrace CQUIN and have created a whole new retailing approach to balance what customers want to eat with food choices that are healthy and nutritious. Our aim is to support the NHS in achieving CQUIN targets, unlocking additional funding, and helping everyone within the hospital setting to make healthier choices. 

Supporting the NHS’s overall purpose of promoting health in the UK is something Medirest takes very seriously. From the very top, right through to the shop floor, we’re committed to helping the NHS to deliver health — whether that’s to its staff, or to its patients. That’s why we’re committed to CQUIN and have made some significant changes to our offerings in light of these recommendations.

One of these changes was that, instead of providing the high-fat, high-sugar drinks, snacks and meals that consumers have come to expect from some of our outlets, we sought ways to instead create and promote tasty, healthy alternatives. It’s a fact behavioural economists know well: people often face environments that make it harder to make the best possible choices. That’s why we want to make sure that we’re directing those in a hospital setting to the healthy options and making it easy to choose food that’s good for them.

It wasn’t easy, though! CQUIN meant we weren’t able to price promote any high-fat, high-sugar products. This was a challenge for Medirest as we’ve always had a strong culture of offering the consumer value on the products they want. That meant a re-think of the price promotions we work with our suppliers on — for example, moving towards low-sugar drinks and healthier fruit juices. Some of the positive changes we’ve taken in support of CQUIN 1b and beyond, include:

• taking out 228kg of sugar from our offering in 12 months by removing all sugar-added drinks with over 5g sugar per 100ml from our meal deal

• removing 746 million kcals a year from our hot beverage range in our Costa outlets by moving to semi-skimmed milk as standard

• only displaying fruit and water at the till point in all our own brand outlets, leading to purchases of fruit and water rocketing by 60 per cent.

We’re proud to say that all our on-house catering and partner providers (M&S Simply Food, M&S Café, Subway and Costa Coffee) are fully compliant with Indicator 1b and are thriving! They’re returning around £15 million a year in rent back to our NHS contracts, making a significant contribution to the financial value we offer.

Overall, our commitment to balancing public wellbeing with public want is something we’re really proud of. To find out more about how we’re working hard to promote the wellbeing of those who work and come into contact with the NHS, take a look at our response to the Public Value Framework, ‘Taking the Public Value Framework forward’, today.

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