David Foad: Do you remember how you felt when you took over as HCA national chair?
Phil Shelley: When you come into a position like this, no matter how much planning you do in advance, you don’t really know what you’re letting yourself in for. After a few weeks, you have to be ready to take charge and you’re expected to know everything.
What are your biggest achievements?
Collaboration has been my thing. My service hasn’t been as long as my predecessors, but they didn’t hold that against me. Our links were there, but not very strong and only used when appropriate. I think we have strengthened them, working together on issues like procurement, and with the British Dietetic Association to strengthen our message about patient catering. We have been setting out a clear message about what the HCA is all about.
How has the environment in which hospital caterers work changed in that time?
Every year changes have come quicker and stronger, and so has demand on the NHS to make the right decisions. However, the balance is often driven by financial considerations rather than being quality driven. It’s obvious that when people contact me from some trusts, hospitals and community settings they are being told to improve patient catering, but what that really means is cut the costs of patient catering.
What do you see as the big challenges over the next five years?
The main challenge needs to be that we have HCA members in every hospital. That would be absolutely terrific and the data we’re producing now allows us to go to hospitals and say ‘if you join us, you will have a bigger say in NHS catering, moving forward as a team’.
How can the HCA best help members cope with these challenges?
The HCA needs to provide good, general guidance. When it came to drawing up a food and drink strategy, people looked at us and asked us to put together a template, but, whatever we do, it’s not bespoke for an individual trust. We need to look at how we can support all the individual areas.
Do you have a favourite memory from your time as national chair?
The forums are always special times. Then there is the Hospital Food Standards Panel, which has a national remit and makes you feel that you are taking decisions that will make a difference to people. I also enjoy awards nights and seeing people get accolades for work they have done.
Will you continue to be involved in the association?
As immediate past chair, you stay part of the executive and council anyway, but I’ve not put my hand up for anything else. I intend to support my own South-West branch, grow its membership and pick up in areas where we’re not quite so strong.
Do you look forward with confidence?
If we keep our feet on the ground, and keep our services focused and honest, then we won’t go far wrong. The HCA has to have a strategic plan to agree on where we are going. There are too many celebrity figures who are dictating the pace of play. We don’t need that. Caterers should be guiding the direction and pace; we’ve got a lot of knowledge and experience, and I’m not sure we’re always using it to our best advantage.