Hospital food at risk from no-deal Brexit
Hospitals could run out of much of the imported food that goes into millions of patient meals in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Department of Health and Social Care has admitted in a letter to all NHS trusts in England.
The department said it was urgently planning to cope with potential “short supply of certain ingredients imported from the EU”, which involves advising suppliers how to use “substitute foodstuffs to maintain nutritional balance” of meals.
The letter – part of the government’s cross-departmental planning for a no-deal Brexit – shows the concern about practical difficulties for key public services from border delays and increased trade friction in the event of no deal.
The Observer understands planning is also under way to prepare organisations that provide meals to schools, prisons and care homes.
The letter, details of which have been provided to MPs on the health committee by the deputy chief executive of NHS providers, Saffron Cordery, tells trusts: “Instructions will be given to major producers of patient meals to put in place contingency arrangements, to account for short supply of certain ingredients.”
It adds that “guidance will be provided to hospital caterers, procurers of patient food and catering services, and PFI providers on actions to take in preparing to use substitute foodstuffs to maintain nutritional balance of patient menu/meal offerings.”
Andy Jones, chairman of Public Sector 100, which represents catering associations working in the public sector, who has seen the letter, said he was “very, very concerned” that supplies would be affected. While he believed trusts could make plans that would be effective for weeks, after that, problems would mount and the position would become critical. He said the fact the department had sent the letter suggested ministers now believed a no-deal was more likely. He said about 40% of food provided to in-patients was imported from the EU.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government is confident of reaching a deal with the EU that benefits patients and the NHS. However, as a responsible government we are also preparing for a range of potential outcomes.”