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Hospitals Will Save Time and Money With Electronic Meal Ordering

7 minute read | 25/01/2023

Hospitals Will Save Time and Money With Electronic Meal Ordering

Independent reports had recommended that every hospital in the UK implement a digital meal ordering system by 2022. The systems replace paper-based meal ordering, cut costs, reduce food waste and enhance patient satisfaction.

The solution is designed to give patients more control over their food intake and provides an opportunity to address and prevent malnutrition risks. 

Detailed menus include information about the meal, such as photos, descriptions and allergy information, to aid with making decisions. This amount of information on a paper-based menu would be costly to print.

Patients can place meal orders via hospital bedside units or their own device such as a tablet or phone. For patients, having control over what they wish to eat makes them more inclined not to waste food during mealtimes. 

More than 6,000 tonnes of hospital food was thrown away by NHS England in 2020, and the annual cost of hospital food waste is £230 million, according to official statistics.

Three key elements contribute to the overall annual costs that the average hospital could save.

  1. Order Processing
  2. Reduce Food Wastage
  3. Reduce Length of Stay (LOS)


1. Order Processing

Before electronic systems, staff would have to fill in paper forms and take it to the catering staff a day in advance. This means that meals could be wasted if a patient changed their mind or lost their appetite, or if their health situation changes, leaving them nil by mouth.

The old paper menu process could take ward staff up to 30 minutes to complete, and catering supervisors would have to spend time counting meal orders.

As an E.M.O system automatically does this all for them, a significant amount of time is saved on manual tasks. Ward staff then have more time to focus on more important duties and give care and attention to patients who need it.

In a recent case study, The Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust discovered that Saffron Bedside, an electronic meal ordering system from Civica, reduced service time by 50%, along with a £180,00 annual cost saving, using a digital solution.


2. Reduce food wastage

If the food wastage per year is £230 million, which equates to 0.22 pm per meal, then for a 500-bed hospital, this would amount to £120,450 per annum.

An article from Integrated Hlth states:

An electronic system which allows staff on the wards at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary to order inpatient meals on the same day has reduced food wastage by an average of 49% since it was introduced in July 2018 – this equates to a saving of £26,000.”

The NHS in England provides 140 million inpatient meals annually, spending £633 million on inpatient food provision.

Reducing food waste and promoting healthy and low-carbon diets, high in seasonal fruit and vegetables, and other protein sources, will help bring health benefits and carbon emission reduction.

Patients can also choose the portion size of their meal, reducing the wastage of uneaten food. 

Nutritious and appetising food and drink are an essential to the patient experience and the overall package of care provided by hospitals, so we need to ensure that food is vital in a patient’s recovery.


3. Reduce Length of Stay (LOS)

A hospital stay is estimated to cost £400 per day. If the average stay is six nights, the cost per patient is £2,400.

So, what’s the relation between LOS and cost-savings?

Hospitals and Trusts must consider that overstaying patients or patients staying less than what is required affects the cost and quality of provided care.

Ensuring patients return to their normal residency or another care setting as soon as it’s safe will improve the patient flow system and reduce bed shortage issues.

Reducing the LOS will also result in medical professionals being able to treat more patients, leading to increased efficiency on wards and between staff members.

As mentioned above, patients receiving a balanced, nutritional diet is a key contributor to the overall recovery process. This is because it improves patient energy uptake and well-being, compared to if the patient is malnourished or not desiring to eat the limited choice of foods the hospital provides.

The Patients Association conducted a NHS Hospital Food Survey in February 2020, which collected a range of patient’s top priorities and opinions on hospital food and their experiences during their one or more night's stay. Some conclusions from the feedback is as follows:

"Food is more than fuel for the body, and the results of this patient survey show that around 65% of patients felt that hospital food had a direct impact on their overall hospital experience”

“...and 70% of patients say that the presentation of food affects the amount of food they will eat.”


Download the Cost-Saving Handout to learn more.


Revolutionising the patient experience and creating cost-effective solutions for the NHS

Part of SPARK TSL’S ultimate vision is to upgrade all existing bedside units to new and improved SPARK® Horizon units, providing better applications, superior technology and drive more efficiency to Trusts and their patients.

For the average 600-bed Trust, the savings made from switching to electronic meal ordering could be startling. Just this app alone could save £262,900 per annum, taking into account the following:

  • Total paper removal cost saving per annum = £27,375
  • Total efficiency cost saving per annum = £40,359
  • Total wastage reduction saving cost per annum = £72,270
  • Total reduced length of stay cost saving per annum = £122,896

Click below to see how SPARK TSL can transform your Trust with SPARK® Horizon.


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