Improving night workers' nutritional wellbeing

Doctors transporting bed

Zarina Khan, head of quality in postgraduate medical education and Adam Pack, a core medical trainee, work at the Royal Free London which came up with a solution to providing hot and healthy meals for staff working night shifts. 

Ensuring staff are well nourished and properly hydrated should be simple enough but it’s a lot harder in practice – and especially for staff working out of hours. 

In November 2018, we we surveyed our junior doctors and asked them to rank eight areas that could improve their wellbeing. Access to healthy food and drink ranked 4th – the top three were improving rotas, tackling work pressures and promoting rest breaks. 

So we dug further and sent out a follow-up survey specifically about access to hot food in March 2019.  87 per cent of respondents agreed it was very important to their wellbeing, and only 7 per cent said they'd been able to buy hot food at night in previous hospitals they had worked in. 

Tackling this issue really mattered to us at Royal Free London–  we wanted to ensure our staff had access to hot food overnight to support their wellbeing. So, we had the idea of making the same meals provided for patients available to staff and worked with our catering team to find a way to deliver this service. 

We decided the most efficient process would be for staff to buy a voucher for a hot meal which would then be delivered via our porters. Staff would be able to choose from the catering menu, so they had access to healthy and balanced meal choices out of hours, as each meal is individually packaged and cooked in a microwave, making them ideal to be sold separately. 

But this operating model threw up some questions. Would staff make use of the service? And if they did, would our porters then be able to cope with the demand of delivering hot meals alongside their other duties? 

With the support of our amazing Barnet Hospital Charity, we were able to fund a month-long pilot in the summer of 2019 to test the new system. We found our porters were able to cope with managing their work duties and transporting meals and it proved popular with our onsite junior doctors who ordered 100 meals in just one month. . 

We decided to extend the service so all staff could benefit from it. We costed the vouchers at £2.40 each, which we felt were reasonably priced and covered the time of the catering team.

One of our staff members told us ‘Hot food was easily accessible during my night shift and gave me healthy options to choose from. It's also a much better option that a vending machine. I would definitely say it improves my wellbeing at night’.

While we're pleased with the success of the service, we want to do more to emphasise the importance of self-care so staff feel able to take breaks and make time to take advantage of our service. We also plan to host a rest summit next year. 

We would ask other trusts to consider the nutritional wellbeing of your staff – though it can be challenging to get the basics right, when done so effectively, the rewards to staff and patients are enormous. 

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