NHS Charities Support Food Banks for the Health Workforce

On 27th January 2023
Categories: 2023

A survey of the NHS charity network carried out by NHS Charities Together shows over half of NHS Trusts and Health Boards could be providing or planning to provide food banks for their staff, as the cost of living skyrockets – with half of these services supported by their NHS charity.

We surveyed 34 of the UK’s NHS charities1, with 21% confirming they had an active food bank for NHS staff or are implementing one, and a further 35% exploring the possibility.

Six of those surveyed reported having active food banks in place, half of which were newly opened between October and December 2022. Across these six alone, they estimate nearly 5,000 NHS staff use them on a monthly basis, with around 550 of these being nurses.

In addition to food banks, over half of the NHS charities surveyed (53%) are looking at other food support for staff, including voucher programmes, free breakfasts, and subsidised meals in the canteen, where staff can also bring their families.

Ellie Orton OBE, Chief Executive of NHS Charities Together, said:

“As the cost of living escalates, like many employers NHS Trusts and the charities who support them are looking at ways to help staff through the crisis. But with pressures facing NHS workers already so extreme, it’s heart-breaking that some are having to resort to using food banks to get by.

“Right now hardship funds and support are the main topic of interest for NHS charities. Queries from our members range from the setting up of Benevolent Funds and access to travel bursaries, to the possibility of providing hot meal vouchers and other basic support, including food banks.

“As a sector we are proud to support the staff and patients of the NHS however we can, and sadly today that support is more important than ever.”

Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust has partnered with a food poverty charity to provide around three trollies of food a week, with other staff also donating items.

Michelle Turner, Chief People Officer and Deputy Chief Executive at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“We know with the pressures of the current financial climate, like many other people our staff may be finding things more difficult at the moment. We decided to set up a staff pantry to provide help to anyone who may need it – no questions asked. The pantry consists of sealed and dry foods as well as other essential items such as sanitary products which can be accessed by staff 24/7. The running costs of the pantry is managed through our staff health and wellbeing fund as well as relying on kind donations of items from staff who are in a position to donate and donations from other partners in the city. So far it has been very well received and we will continue offering it for as long as it is needed.”

In Lothian, Food Pantries have been set up by the local Unison branch with support from NHS Lothian Charity and Edinburgh and East Lothian Food Projects to help staff who are struggling financially because of the increased prices of gas, electricity, mortgages and more.

Jane Ferguson, Director of NHS Lothian Charity, said:

“As an NHS charity, we are committed to working together with partners to support our local NHS staff who are experiencing economic hardship as a result of this crisis in whichever way we are able to. Unison Lothian Health Branch had been made aware that some staff were struggling to buy food for their children or didn’t have enough for their bus fare to come into work and, together, we wanted to do something to help. With funding from the Charity for food parcels, Unison has co-ordinated setting up Food Pantries at various sites across Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian for staff in need of additional support.”

1 Online survey of NHS Trusts and Health Boards, conducted 4-5 January 2023. 34 of the UK’s 234 NHS charities, who collectively support every Trust and Health Board in the UK, responded to the 24 hr survey. Of these, 21% (7) said they had an active foodbank in their Trust or Health Board for NHS staff or are implementing one, and a further 35% (12) are exploring the possibility.

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