Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital
The Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital (NSECH) in Cramlington opened in 2015 and is the first purpose-built hospital of its kind in England, dedicated to providing emergency care.
The hospital treats seriously ill or injured people from around Northumberland and North Tyneside, who require immediate care from a specialist.
NSECH has emergency care consultants working on site 24/7 with other specialists providing services seven days a week. The hospital has 337 beds and a 72-hour average length of stay for patients who are admitted to the emergency site.
UK hospital challenges
Hospitals across the UK continuously battle with several critical issues in the provision of food service to patients. According to The Health Foundation, the number of patients admitted urgently to hospital has increased by almost half over the past decade, up 42 per cent. In 2022, emergency admissions increased, inching closer to pre-pandemic levels.
In addition to serving hot, nutritious meals at the correct time, hospital catering teams are facing other critical challenges:
- The need to create more space for patient beds. Hospitals are growing quickly, so the demand to reallocate the physical space from catering to clinical has a direct impact on catering team ability to provide patient meals.
- The cost of food per patient. Clinical costs are an obvious priority over food costs, but the pressure to keep meal costs down is fierce. The average NHS Trust allocates £5 per person, per day, so food is a very limited resource financially.
- The availability of staff. The changing nature of the UK’s workforce, especially in the wake of Brexit will impact on recruitment and retaining staff in catering roles.
- Finally, patient requirements are changing. Tastes as a nation are widening, whether due to food intolerances or changing preferences such as vegan and vegetarian diets. This needs to be addressed while continuing to cater for those with a traditional palate.
These issues were firmly in mind when NSECH embarked on its procurement mission – to identify a catering partner who could support them to improve patient food experience and continually enhance the quality of the meals and service.
NSECH selected apetito, the UK's leading food producer for the health and social care sector. For 20 years, the business has been perfecting hospital meals that nourish and delight patients.
apetito’s hospital meal services are created by dedicated experts in the provision of food for hospitals, combined with a reliable service that’s valued by more than 500 NHS hospitals.
NSECH selected apetito’s innovative plated meals system, CarteChoix, a flexible offering that gives patients more choice while reducing wastage and delivering significant cost savings to the hospital.
Chris Campbell, Hotel Services Manager for Northumbria Healthcare explains their need for choice and flexibility, “Given the nature of our facility here, our catering requirements are slightly different to that of your regular hospital. Operating a ‘Blue Light’ hospital means we are required to feed patients on an ad-hoc basis, offering nutritious meal options around the clock.”
CarteChoix is designed to ensure the NHS benefit from resource and time efficiencies, while significantly increasing the choice of meals compared to those that are plated on the ward. The meals are easy to prepare and save time throughout the catering process. Patients receive a personal dining experience that makes a real difference to how they feel during their stay. Meals are nutritionally balanced and promote patient recovery and overall wellbeing, providing them with some home comforts in the form of the food they know and love.
Within NSECH, food service is conducted from a central preparation area, serving a total of 900 meals each day. The choice includes, 32% vegetarian and 10% vegan meals on average, as well as options for specialist diets, such as dysphagia (27%) and gluten free meals (59%).
"We are required to feed patients on an ad-hoc basis, offering nutritious meal options around the clock."
- Did you know… Approximately 33,000 apetito meals are served to patients every day, packed with nutritional goodness and catering for every dietary need.
Benefits for the patient and hospital
The priority for NSECH is to ensure patients have good meals they enjoy, while enhancing health and well-being. Partnering with apetito has enabled the hospital to provide nutritious, delicious and visually appealing food, which remains hot for the time it takes to eat. By removing the need to serve portioned meals, waiting times have been reduced by up to 45 minutes – again improving the patient experience and allowing them to continue to eat with dignity.
Chris Campbell continues, “Ultimately it’s all about the patient, and we truly believe in putting patient experience first in everything we do, especially with our food offering. We know the important role nutrition plays in the recovery process, and with the apetito plated meal system we are able to offer nutritious meals served in a way which puts patient experience first.”
apetito’s plated meal system and support during implementation results in a reduction of waste, which costs the healthcare sector alone £230 million each year, according to WRAP, with over 120,000 tonnes of food waste and 49,000 tonnes of associated packing waste.
apetito's CarteChoix plated meals are cooked for the specific individual, which compared to portioned meals, can save up to 50 per cent of food wastage, adding to both NSECH’s and apetito’s targets to reduce wastage.
Chris Campbell discusses, “It is no secret finances are tight within the NHS, so any savings that can be made make a big difference. Since moving over to apetito we have been able to reduce our food wastage, which in turn saves our hospital precious money.”
"With the apetito plated meal system we are able to offer nutritious meals served in a way which puts patient experience first."
Leading the way
The NHS and apetito share a common goal, to reach Net Zero by 2040. apetito are supporting their customers to achieve their net zero targets through a range of initiatives, one being Project Boomerang.
Following a highly successful pilot earlier this year with three hospitals, this innovative new scheme is the NHS’ first closed loop recycling system for meal trays and is now operating in over 20 sites with plans to extend across all of apetito’s NHS customers this year.
Under the scheme, all the plastic trays used in apetito’s CarteChoix and Specialist Nutrition ranges can be collected by apetito when new meals are delivered. The trays are then recycled into plastic flakes and then transformed into completely new trays, right here in the UK. apetito guarantees that 100% of trays returned will be recycled into new trays.
NSECH have been returning their trays since April 2023, and have so far returned 686kg of trays, reducing wastage costs, as well as saving 427kg of CO2. Claire Winter, Head of Sustainability for Northumbria Healthcare Trust explains how Project Boomerang has been implemented across the Trust.
“Project Boomerang has reduced waste going out to our general waste and is totally in line with our sustainability strategy and green plan. Project Boomerang is an integral part of our waste management targets, and we need to replicate this across a number of our hospitals, it should become business as usual. We want a close looped system.”
apetito’s partnership approach with NSECH has placed it at the forefront of innovation in both product development and efficiency increases. The meals reflect the changing nature and approach to healthcare catering, with both parties working closely together to continue improving the menu, as well as providing ongoing training and support. NSECH is challenging institutional perceptions of hospital food, and working with apetito is making them a reality today.
Putting the patient first
“We know the important role nutrition plays in the recovery process, and with the apetito plated meal system we are able to offer nutritious meals served in a way which puts patient experience first.”
Catering Manager, NSECH