So said Simon Stevens, head of the NHS. I came across the quote in a Guardian article the evening after I visited our local hospital earlier this week.
I do believe that the NHS has a way to go, if my visit today is representative of the approach. And sadly I think it is. During the years following my mother-in-law’s stroke 5 years ago, she had spells in every hospital in Bristol bar the psychiatric ones, so we had plenty of scope to do a thorough study of the food available both to patients and visitors. It was unfailingly unhealthy – even in the brand spanking new Southmead Hospital, all the shop there could offer was sugary drinks, sweets and chocolates, crisps, and every other variety of unhealthy snack.
I arrived early for my appointment, so I sat in the Atrium with a cup of tea to while away the time. I looked around and watched as people ate and drank some of the least healthy food possible. But that was pretty much all that was on offer.
The three machines below stood side by side, at one edge of the cafe seating area.
At the opposite edge of the space was the cafe counter itself. It was just like many a high-street coffee chain, as you can see from the pictures below.
Yes, there is a token basket of (expensive, tired looking) fruit there, but would you pay 55p for a banana or an orange in preference to all the rest of the stuff on offer?t
In case that isn’t enough rubbish on offer for you, all that is supplemented with the Friends of the Hospital shop, for those emergency buys and magazines, and other bits and pieces patients or visitors might need. Including another even larger large array of chocolates, confectionary, crisps, and sugary drinks. Nothing remotely healthy to be found there.
It took me back to when I was an in-patient there for my hysterectomy and refused the drugs I was offered for the (almost inevitable) ensuing constipation in favour of some helpful food – which had to be brought in from outside, because it certainly wasn’t available inside. That was about 8 years ago, and apparently no progress had been made since I had my first baby in hospital and had exactly the same conversation with the same (effective) result – 22 years previously.
Now the conversation is about soaring levels of obesity, and the impact that has on our NHS and other services.
Going back to the headline quote – obesity is the new smoking. An interesting proposition, and not one I’d take issue with. But it made me think.
A hospital reception area pumped full of cigarette machines, and selling little else but cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco? Surely unthinkable, even back in the unenlighted days before smoking bans.
Sometimes I really do despair. Is profit everything now? Does Big Food always have to call the tune? Lets hope that Stevens manages to achieve the change he’s talking about, maybe starting with the NHS estate. In the meantime, I shall be taking my own snacks whenever I have to spend much time in a hospital.