A person stands with a bag full of vegetables among crates of carrots and other vegetables.

Foundational Economy Capability Networks: Velindre University NHS Trust

Velindre University NHS Trust 

Enabling a FutureGen-ready food system  

The link between healthy food and patient recovery may seem an obvious one, but in 2023 staff at Velindre University NHS Trust (Velindre) set out to explore this relationship in more detail – and to find ways to maximise the benefits that a healthy food system can bring to patients, hospital staff and beyond. Chris Moreton, Deputy Director for Finance at Velindre, explains more. 

The Challenge:  

The current food system in Wales is facing multiple challenges that affect everyone. These include climate change, nature loss, a declining rural economy and food security. 

Agriculture in Wales is currently responsible for about 14% of Wales’s greenhouse gas emissions, whilst the move towards more intensive farming processes, to accommodate changing diets and consumer demand, reduces land fertility, contributes to negative impacts on surrounding air and waterways and is a key driver of biodiversity loss.  

Years of intensification in agriculture have left rural communities poorer and less stable, negatively impacting the well-being of farming communities. In addition, an over-reliance on an increasingly fragile global food system has contributed to rising food prices, food poverty and inequality.  

This in itself has knock-on effects for the NHS, but Wales is also seeing an increase in diet-related disease, exacerbated by a lack of affordable, accessible, fresh produce being eaten in the home and workplace. These diseases include Type II diabetes, cancers, cardiac and vascular diseases, strokes, and joint problems. 

The Opportunity:  

The Welsh public sector spends £97m on food for schools, hospitals, and social care, with Velindre’s annual food budget alone standing at c.£22 million. 

Chris believes that the NHS in Wales has the opportunity to lead the promotion of environmentally and socially responsible public sector food sourcing. By supplying local, good quality and sustainably-produced food, it can improve the health and well-being of patients, staff, and their families, as well as reducing ecological harm and supporting a fairer and more resilient Welsh food sector.  

This mission aligns with the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, the Welsh Government’s ‘Buying Food Fit for the Future’ initiative, Velindre’s duty of actioning Socially Responsible Public Procurement, and contributes towards the ambition of reaching Net Zero by 2030.  

These mutually-reinforcing ambitions are contained in the project’s objectives: 

  1. Increased access to healthy and affordable food will lead to better health outcomes. 
  1. The food supply chain will be shorter, more resilient, and will have minimal environmental impact while providing value for money. 
  1. The Trust will have more spaces where people can learn about and enjoy food. 
  1. There will be a reduction in food waste and the ecological footprint. 
  1. Partnerships will lead to the development of vibrant local food economies and communities. 

Velindre aims to make food a well-being priority for its patients and staff through increasing access to healthy food options at a reasonable price both inside and outside of work. This includes the introduction of “Well-being Wednesdays” and a veg box scheme – which proved successful during the pandemic – to promote healthy eating habits.  

Menu redesign will be evaluated, starting with the restaurant at Velindre Cancer Centre, to explore opportunities to integrate seasonal and organic ingredients, using tools such as meat reduction and use of non-branded projects to help maximise budgets.  

By working directly with suppliers, the project aims to ensure that ethical sourcing and fair-trade options will also be explored where Welsh produce is not available. Skills, training and education will be a key pillar in the project both in terms of roles linked to food – from cooks to procurement – to broader staff engagement to help staff make informed decisions about food in work and wider life. 

Beyond that, by providing visible leadership through its food mission, Chris hopes that Velindre can lead by example across the public sector in Wales to help drive regional collaboration and alignment around food sourcing, promoting agroecological food production and unlocking opportunities for innovation. 

A person stands with a large bag among crates full of carrots and other vegetables. A board on the back reads Greengrocer.

Next steps:  

The project has been developed with the support of Welsh Government’s Backing Local Firms Fund that supports the development of key foundational sectors such as food.  

Staff buy-in for this project is already high, with staff workshops indicating near-unanimous support for the food mission. This provides a key resource for consistent messaging around the benefits of the proposed changes.  

Chris explains that “Clear, consistent messaging and collaboration with suppliers, producers and partners such as Cwm Taf Morgannwg’s Central Processing Unit will be critical to creating the conditions that allow people to commit to change.”  

An Action Plan is currently being developed to help operationalise the project’s goals and embed them into Velindre’s operations. Whilst some performance indicators exist and can easily be measured, such as percentages of food coming from local suppliers, food waste reduction, staff accessing veg boxes and average days for patient recovery, others will need development, including a Patient Reported Outcome Measure for food and the Social Return on Investment for the local food economy. 

Chris believes that this whole-system approach is necessary both to tackle the challenges within the current food system and to demonstrate the full range of benefits that can be delivered by values-based healthcare. We look forward to reporting more as the project progresses. 

The Foundational Economy Challenge Fund supported innovative, experimental approaches to community wealth-building and resilient local economies.

Cefnogodd Cronfa Her Economi Sylfaenol dulliau arloesol ac arbrofol o adeiladu cyfoeth cymunedol ac economïau lleol cadarn.

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