Healthier staff diets in the NHS

 How can communications be grouped and then applied using technology? Can this generate understanding of how to improve snack and drink vending services towards healthier staff diets in the NHS?

EngD research carried out by Lucy Campbell

This research explored how scientific knowledge can be grouped and applied to improve communications within NHS facilities management services. Communications areas included, supply chain auditing, strategy development, service design, end service user engagement, contracts, legislation and compliance. Scientific knowledge is investigated in relation to the following service delivery areas of data, process, aesthetics (representations), context (the operational environment) and the user.

The research responds to industry demand. Inhouse FMs at the largest UK NHS Trust, Barts Health, were looking for ways to improve snack and drink vending services. Vending machines all over the world sell some of the least nutritious, least ethical, least sustainable products available on the retail catering market, and at Barts Health, are the only retail outlets open for significant periods of time, when staff are working night shifts.
This research is timely, as a number of new policies for more sustainable public services like vending have a arisen in recent years, centred on encouraging long term healthy choices and reducing preventable diseases caused by factors like poor diet.

Outsourced vending services present such a unique research opportunity for improvement, as they are a relatively small, non core service amidst rigid contract frameworks and management structures, as well as crippling cost improvement programs. The entire soft FM contract, including vending, was being retendered at the time of this research as well.

Snack and drink vending machine services typify a dynamic set of problems faced by inhouse FMs in public organisations. The service is subcontracted, managed under a PFI agreement, a point where conflicting commercial and perceptibly unprofitable public health agendas coalesce. It is a potentially profitable service, subject to overwhelming cost improvement plans and changeable government agendas, as well as uncertainty over the new contract structure. What seems like a simple and unimportant service, is revealed to be the crux of a complex healthcare system.

This project uses mixed methods and a bottom up approach. The first research case was about end service use, and the last about the service contract. The enabling and leadership roles of the project members culminated in unique and impactful research opportunities in this project.

Literature about the design and operation of services, about public policy, and about vending machine technology, provide a miscellany of ideas to inform each research activity. Communications is a ubiquitous idea in this research, as it defines each of the research activities and approaches taken across disparate parts of vending services, and also the intangible, people centred, and time dependent nature of service itself.