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NHS Supply Chain ensures that hospital food is sustainable

Monday 13 December 2010

NHS Supply Chain is working hard to ensure that food ordered through it is the freshest, has the longest shelf-life and is sourced considering sustainable practices as it unveils new tender criteria today.

The organisation procures around 50 to 60 per cent of food for hospitals in England and Wales – making it the largest supplier of food to the NHS. It employs a progressive procurement model for food which is underpinned by the Ethical Trade Initiative’s (ETI) base code as well as its own code of conduct*.

In the updated measures, potential food suppliers to the NHS are scored upon their sustainable credentials – with greener companies gaining higher scores. Suppliers must now show accountability in:

  • commitment to reduce food miles, carbon reduction and unnecessary packaging
  • safer farming practices (including pesticide use, animal welfare and fish sourcing)
  • seasonal produce availability and optimum shelf life.

“As a responsible supplier we are a strong supporter of sustainable practices. By implementing strong ethical standards across all food contracts and encouraging local suppliers and SME’s to bid for contracts, our progressive approach is leading the way within the public sector,” says Keith Hinchcliffe, food trading manager at NHS Supply Chain. “We have worked hard to introduce a process that will increase the amount of fresh nutritious food available for patients and offer more opportunities for small businesses to tender for contracts.”

In its annual report on public sector food, DEFRA found that 95 per cent of fresh food contracts through the NHS Supply Chain offered farm assured¹ products, and 69 per cent is produced in the UK².

While NHS Supply Chain tenders on a national basis, most of its fresh supplies come from either local or regional suppliers. This enables trusts to benefit from aggregated national pricing and fresh produce whilst reducing food miles and supporting local businesses. Keith explains, “For instance through our fresh fruit and vegetable contract, trusts around England have the option of buying from over 35 local suppliers – this means that wherever they are in the country, they can source their five-a-day locally.” See further example in case study related to milk supply linked in notes to editors³.

To further enhance its sustainable offering NHS Supply Chain is also looking at rolling out the Red Tractor Farm Assurance scheme across its produce lines. The scheme is designed to ensure that best practice in farming standards are followed and, as such, the resulting products maintain a consistently high standard in quality, traceability and food safety.


Notes to editors
A copy of NHS Supply Chain’s second annual sustainability report can be downloaded here,

* NHS Supply Chain’s supplier code of practice is an integral part of all food tenders and the ETi
base code of conduct is used within all food tenders.
¹ For example Red Tractor or LEAF Marque.
² UK produced food (i.e. reared and grown in the UK) as a percentage of all food supplied
Results quoted are from DEFRA’s latest Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PSFPI) report for
³ Milk sourcing case study!
Tender criteria now take the following into account during the scoring process:

  • Energy and carbon reduction
  • Reduction of food miles (e.g. from farm/factory to hospital)
  • Responsible pesticide management
  • Fresh food shelf-life
  • Delivery flexibility
  • Commitment to safe and sustainable farming practices
  • Availability of best quality seasonal produce
  • Responsible fish sourcing
  • Animal welfare standards
  • Eggs must meet EEC minimum standards
  • Packaging reduction
  • Must meet NHS Supply Chain’s supplier code of conduct
  • Range of fairly traded produce

NHS Supply Chain provides a wide range of food contracts and manages its supply base to ensure that NHS customer’s varying needs are met. This allows a trust catering manager to source meat from a local supplier or if necessary source cheaper options due to budgetary restrictions. NHS Supply Chain holds the ethics of PSFPI and sustainable procurement in high regard. All tenders are based on a solid balance of both financial and non financial criteria, ensuring that evidence of sound farming practices, including the use of pesticides, the protection of the environment and the welfare of animals are all key considerations.

All NHS Supply Chain food contracts are tendered following the open procedure, ensuring that all economic operators have a fair and equal chance of gaining an award. In tendering this way, it encourages SME’s to bid for business, allowing that they can display good management in technical, food safety and due diligence. NHS Supply Chain works on the basis of continuous improvement and works with suppliers throughout the life of the contract to drive forward standards in supply chain excellence including sustainability. NHS Supply Chain is governed by the sustainability memorandum of understanding with the NHS Business Services Authority and also by DHL’s own sustainable targets.

NHS Supply Chain’s food contracts
NHS Supply Chain supplies around 60 per cent of all hospital food in England. It sources everything from fresh produce and meat; to sundries like tea and coffee; and everyday essentials like canned food and even healthy ready meals.
The organisation works closely with The Hospital Catering Association (HCA) and catering managers from across the NHS to ensure that we provide a complete and reliable food service. It also actively engages with key stakeholders in the field and is aware of the issues around food procurement such as, local sourcing, sustainability, food miles and Fairtrade and sits on two Government task forces managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

About NHS Supply Chain
NHS Supply Chain is a government contract operated by DHL since 2006. It supports the National Health Service (NHS) and other healthcare organisations in England and Wales by providing end to end supply chain solutions.

The organisation was formed from the NHS Logistics Authority and parts of the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (NHS PASA). It is operated on behalf of the NHS Business Services Authority and aims to provide over £1 billion of savings to the NHS by 2016.

The NHS Supply Chain contract manages the sourcing, delivery and supply of healthcare products and food for over 1,000 NHS trusts and healthcare organisations. It provides a single point of access to over 620,000 products ranging from bandages to sutures, from gloves to implants, and even diagnostic equipment such as MRI scanners.

Its management of the procurement process negates an NHS organisation’s need to tender through the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). Costs can also be reduced through its one-route solution that consolidates all products onto one invoice and delivery – this saves up to £1 per product in back office administration costs and removes up to 40 deliveries going into a trust compared with ordering goods separately.

To ensure that its products are fit for today’s healthcare market, NHS Supply Chain works with suppliers of all sizes to ensure its range embraces high quality and innovative products; and engages with clinicians, the Department of Health and academic institutions to make sure that it is aware of the current requirements and latest developments in clinical practice.
NHS Supply Chain’s product areas include:

  • theatres
  • dental
  • audiology
  • catering, including food
  • infection control
  • orthopedics
  • rehabilitation
  • capital equipment, including finance and maintenance

Based in Alfreton, Derbyshire, UK, the business employs around 2,400 staff in eight locations.

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