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Milton Keynes University Hospital CEO outlines importance of offering nutritious patient food

17th Jan 2024 - 04:00
Joe Harrison, chief executive of MKUH
At Milton Keynes University Hospital prioritising patient catering has been a longstanding commitment, writes chief executive Joe Harrison in support of Love British Food.

Whether it is a parent who has just given birth, a child recovering from surgery or an individual recuperating from a stroke, it is vital that everyone is offered a wide range of appetising and nutritious meal options during their hospital stay.

Serving fresh meals

Under the guidance of our hotel services manager Steven Hall and catering manager Frank Fiore, teams have worked collaboratively to identify a meal service that offers fresher, more appetising, and personalised meals that benefit the recovery of our patients. We opted for a service which has dishes that can be steamed for enhanced flavour and taste, and crucially which offer health benefits and we successfully implemented a new patient menu in October 2021.

This revamped menu offers a wide selection at every mealtime, catering to specific needs and dietary requirements, including halal, kosher, vegan, allergy-aware, and modified textures for certain patients. To ensure accessibility, the menus are available in standard, pictorial, and large print, in 11 different languages, and in braille.

Introducing electronic menus

We also introduced electronic menu ordering and established a new ward-based role - Ward Food Service Assistant. These dedicated and committed colleagues assist our patients with menu selection and electronic ordering of meals in-line with the Trust’s wider ambition to implement technology to improve the way we work. This approach fosters familiarity, understanding, and relationship-building between patients, relatives, and staff and these colleagues have already become integral to the patient catering experience offered here at MKUH.

Our menu now boasts diverse choices, ranging from traditional favourites to innovative options such as falafel tagine. Since the introduction, patient feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, highlighting the broad range of choices, availability of hot and cold options, and most importantly, just how tasty the food is. Positive patient feedback has soared from 49% to 73%, an improvement that we are extremely proud of and we believe will continue to improve as time goes on. 

Reducing food waste

In addition to this, we have managed to reduce our food wastage from 17% to 2% through real-time ordering and effective portion control, saving both money and, just as importantly, reducing our environmental impact. As a Trust our ambition is to achieve the NHS’ net zero aspirations in 2030, ten years ahead of the national target to become net carbon zero for emissions by 2040. It is through innovations such as these that we are dramatically reducing our carbon footprint and I know this will only continue to improve as the service evolves.

Quality vs cost

While we know that NHS budgets are under increasing pressures, we also know that quality food does not come cheap. Here at MKUH, our teams have worked increasingly hard to find the balance between high quality nutrition and a cost point that is affordable, sustainable, and manageable, working with colleagues in procurement and finance to ensure we have a service that shares our aspirations and is able to evolve as our hospital expands. This is the same approach we use to deliver all our services here, ensuring we deliver the best possible care to all our patients while delivering value for money for the taxpayer. 

Improving on-site catering

It is important to note that not only have we significantly overhauled our patient catering service, but there have also been fantastic improvements in our on-site catering to staff and visitors. We now offer competitively priced breakfast items, balanced hot meal choices, a range of £2 healthy choices, a salad bar, and a jacket potato and filling option. Regular initiatives throughout the year, such as 'Farm to Table,' showcase local ingredients and help to raise the profile of the important work our catering team do.

Staff appreciation

I extend my appreciation to every staff member involved in our patient and staff food service - a dedicated team passionate about serving delicious and satisfying meals to enhance patient satisfaction. The significant changes made in recent years, coupled with our exceptional team fuel my excitement about the continued development of our offerings. Most importantly good nutrition enables our patients to go home sooner which not only helps that individual, it also ensures that we are able to see and treat more patients – an ambition that every hospital is aiming to achieve to reduce waiting times across the NHS. 


There are so many advantages and benefits for effectively investing in a high-quality patient and staff catering service and for me this is something that should be high on the ‘menu’ for every hospital across the country. I am hugely proud of everything the team has achieved in the last few years to develop our services and am incredibly excited to be involved and support their future aspirations moving forward. 

Love British Food

Love British Food has announced the 23rd edition of British Food Fortnight will take place from 20th September to 6th October 2024. Joe Harrison is a supporter of Love British Food and the Hospital Care Catering Working Group is chaired by catering manager Frank Fiore.

Alexia Robinson, director of Love British Food, said: “Joe Harrison is a leader in demonstrating what can be achieved when CEOs of NHS Trusts prioritise food. The weight of the agenda on a Trust CEO’s desk is enormous. Joe recognises the role that Trust catering teams and the food they serve have in the patient experience and their recovery. 

“Through the activities we lead - the Love British Food Hospital and Care Catering Working Group and our farm visits for NHS caterers - it is clear that catering teams need support from the top; they can have all the vision and enthusiasm in the world but they need support within their Trust to deliver it. We asked Joe to write this piece to encourage all CEOs to follow his lead.”

Written by
Edward Waddell