Staff say they are forced to skip meals and snack on junk food because they have no time for breaks
- Of the 1.3 million NHS workers it is estimated half are overweight or obese
- 80 per cent of doctors and nurses said they eat only 1-2 meals a day
- They averaged two portions of fruit or vegetables and ate snacks
- 52 per cent said there were insufficient ‘healthy options’ at NHS hospitals
Doctors and nurses are frequently skipping meals and being forced to snack on junk food because they don’t get time to eat.
The situation is now so bad poor diet has overtaken smoking as the biggest cause of ill health caused by lifestyle in the NHS.
Soaring levels of obesity within the healthcare workforce has been widely criticised for setting a bad example to patients.
Of the 1.3 million NHS workers, it is estimated that 700,000 are either overweight or obese.
The obesity crisis has even led to a trust in Scotland introducing exercise classes for trainee nurses.
Now a survey of doctors and nurses has pointed to long shifts and a lack of healthy food and drinks in hospitals being behind the bulging waistlines.
The survey found NHS workers across the UK are being driven to quick snacks and sugar fixes in a bid to see them through long shifts with 80 per cent saying they regularly skip meals and turn to snacks instead.
Key findings from the study, conducted by older person’s charity and hospital retailer Royal Voluntary Service, include:
- 80 per cent of NHS doctors and nurses are running on just one or two meals a day
- Half interviewed admit they simply ‘grab what they can, when they can’
- Averaged just two portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- One in five ate sweets and cakes on regular basis
- 52 per cent said there were insufficient ‘healthy options’ at hospital where they worked
Many staff said they too busy to eat properly with the average time spent on meal breaks during a 9.5 hour shift just 31 minutes.
Almost one in 10 (8 per cent) said they take less than 5 minutes or ‘no break’ at all while the same number admitted their diet was ‘poor’.
A lack of healthy food and drinks in hospitals was also blamed for turning NHS workers across to quick snacks and sugar fixes to see them through long shifts.
Nurses fared worse than doctors with more than a third saying they survive on just one meal a day.
Most (78 per cent) said they wanted want to see healthier options introduced and believe these would have a positive effect on their overall diet.
The survey comes after it was revealed more than 100 NHS hospitals in Britain contain fast food outlets including Burger King and Costa Coffee.
However, 38 per cent of staff said they didn’t mind this, so long as there was a balance of food options to choose from.
Now the charity – which is the biggest hospital retailer in England, Scotland and Wales running more than 500 hospital cafés, shops and trolley services – is launching its Healthy Choices options in a bid to improve what’s on offer.
It is creating healthier menus with more nutritious options and limiting space for unhealthy items like crisps, confectionery and sugary drinks will be dramatically reduced as part of the national programme to encourage healthier eating among NHS staff.
The campaign has won the backing of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
It comes as NHS England is proposing to introduce a 20 per cent tax on all sugary drinks and foods in all NHS hospitals and health centres in England by 2020.
Many doctors and nurses admitted replacing meals with snacks like chocolate because they were ‘too busy’ to take breaks while working long shifts
The charity’s first flagship new-look café has opened this month at Royal Bournemouth Hospital in Dorset, with a new concept store at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh to follow.
The full roll out of the Healthy Choices programme across England, Scotland and Wales is set to be complete by March 2017.
Kate Bull, executive director of retail for Royal Voluntary Service, said: ‘For the first time ever, poor diet has overtaken smoking as the biggest single cause of life-style related illness.
‘Workforce health is a major priority for NHS England and it’s important that the food and drink options for hospital staff and visitors are healthy and nutritious.
‘This is why we are revising the products we offer in hospitals in our cafés, shops and on our trolleys — to make sure there is plenty of choice available.’
She said the charity was committed to ensuring hospital staff and visitors will have a choice of freshly prepared meals and snacks using local and seasonal produce – ‘even when in a rush’.
Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive, said: ‘There’s a groundswell of public concern on obesity, and the NHS is on the hook for this multi-billion pound epidemic.
‘So it’s great to see one of the biggest NHS hospital retailers taking clear action. Others must now follow the Royal Voluntary Service’s lead, do the responsible thing and provide more tasty, healthy and affordable alternatives.’
Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and healthy food campaigner said: ‘When it comes to food on offer in hospitals, it doesn’t make sense that there’s such a poor choice of food and so many vending machines in a place where people are supposed to be getting better, not unhealthier.
‘I completely support the Royal Voluntary Service in this important move.’
HOSPITAL VENDING MACHINES ARE’ SLOWLY KILLING STAFF AND PATIENTS’
By Lara Speir, an emergency paediatric staff nurse from London, writing for the medical blogging site The Hippocratic Post
Over my career I have spent many thousands of hours in A&E departments working on shift to care for sick or hurt children.
I, along with the medical team, do my best to care for the physical well-being of each and every patient that comes through the door.
I find it hard to believe, therefore, that the powers that be think it is a good thing to pack the A&E waiting rooms with vending machines full of sugar loaded fizzy drinks, chocolate and confectionary.
While we heal, the vending machines are stoking the consumption of foods that harm.
We know that high sugar diets are implicated in obesity, type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems, and a high salt diet contributes to high blood pressure.
But having vending machines right in the heart of our hospitals sends out the message that it’s fine to eat sweet and salty snacks.
In a study of hospital trusts in England carried out in 2015, a national newspaper found all of the 76 which responded had vending machines in their departments, selling a range of sweets, chocolates and crisps.
Yes, some did restock their vending machines to include healthier dried or fresh fruit, and two only offered diet versions of fizzy drinks.
Unhealthy drinks and foods sold in hospitals send out the message it’s fine to choose sugary options, says Lara Speir, an emergency paediatric consultant
But the overwhelming majority stuck to the worst possible options when it comes to unhealthy eating.
These vending machines, which take up valuable space and add to overcrowding in cramped waiting rooms, have a captive audience, both the staff and the patients.
I have to admit that when I was working night shifts, with no time to take even the shortest break, I would put in some coins and boost my energy levels with a quick chocolate bar.
Many of the night staff have no other option but to use the vending machines – the main hospital cafeterias are closed and there is no time to pop out.
Our staff room had a kettle and a fridge but no microwave to reheat home-made meals.
The patients and their relatives and carers are in an even worse predicament.
They are in pain, anxious and often forced to wait for many hours.
Boredom sets in and, not surprisingly, they graze on comfort food.
At least, they are usually only there for a 24 hour period of less. The nurses and doctors are there day in, day out.
Our working environment in most A&E departments are pretty unhealthy in many ways, not just the kind of food we are forced to eat and the shift work patterns which rob of us of healthy sleep.
There is rarely any natural daylight in the emergency rooms, which are often on the basements levels of concrete buildings to allow easy access by ambulances.
Space is so limited that in one A&E department I worked in, the baby room was a concerted stock cupboard.
No natural light also means poor ventilation and little fresh air.
So, we work many hours without seeing the daylight or breathing fresh air.
We eat junk food and then wonder why we feel so terrible at the end of our shift. It’s not just exhaustion.
SOURCE: The Hippocratic Post