A Third of Brits Back Switch to Fully Vegan Menu in NHS Hospitals

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A UK-wide survey has found that 35% of Brits would support a switch to a 100% plant-based menu at NHS hospitals – but they’re divided over the benefits of vegan diets.

If the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) would choose to adopt fully vegan menus at its hospitals, 35% of Brits would back the move, according to a 2,000-person survey.

Commissioned by Plant-Based Health Professionals UK, the poll revealed that 78% of British consumers are sympathetic to the health service’s financial and labour challenges, but half (51%) say there needs to be a change in the type of meals served in hospitals.

“I do feel like there’s always a negative stereotype towards hospital food, and… it comes down to a lack of budget, lack of care. It just almost looks like a prison meal,” said one respondent.

The results highlighted the “urgent need for a comprehensive change in the NHS’s approach to hospital food and its role in patient care across the UK”, according to Plant-Based Health Professionals UK.

“There is a lot of scepticism within the public healthcare industry, and they expect plant-based meals to be met with distaste,” said Shireen Kassam, a consultant haematologist at King’s College Hospital London and founder of the vegan-forward health organisation.

“The survey results demonstrate that the general public would be positive about the switch to plant-based menus, with the majority stating that the NHS should support healthy eating.”

Unappetising food and lack of flavour top concerns for NHS meals

plant based diet nhs
Courtesy: Campaign for Better Hospital Food

Among the survey’s respondents, 2% were vegan and 7% vegetarian, while 72% described themselves as omnivores. But nearly a third (32%) said they would be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ interested in trying a fully plant-based diet – that said, 35% were ‘very uninterested’, underscoring a contradictory perspective found throughout the poll.

Only 15% have increased their meat consumption in the past two years, while 31% have cut back. Health seems to be a major motivation here: nearly three-quarters (74%) of Brits agreed that making dietary and lifestyle changes is important to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions.

When it comes to hospital meals, then, the most common impression among consumers is that the food looks unappetising (cited by 40% of respondents), while a lack of flavour (32%) and the fact that they’re bland to cater to a wide range of people (29%) were also important factors. Only 7% think food in NHS hospitals is delicious, and concerningly, a mere 11% find it healthy (and 13% say it’s nutritionally balanced).

Meanwhile, 94% think it’s important for hospitals to promote healthy lifestyles. This is perhaps why healthy meals in NHS sites are the biggest priority for Brits, with 64% choosing that option. Another 31% want food with higher protein and 23% want meals high in energy, though only 17% said sustainability should be a top consideration.

However, 61% say they’d be annoyed if they couldn’t eat meat during a hospital stay. There’s also a lack of awareness about the health impact of processed meats, which have been classed as carcinogens by the WHO. More than a third (35%) say processed meats should be served to patients, while only 30% disagree.

If red and processed meat were removed from the menu, the next best food in the eyes of British consumers is chicken (57%), followed by fish (38%). Beans and lentils (14%) are more favourable than meat analogues (13%), while tofu or soy mince would be chosen by just 7%. Encouragingly, though, 41% endorse a switch from dairy to plant-based milk and yoghurts.

“Everyone has a vision in their minds when they think of hospital food – and it is rarely positive, so it is certainly time the food had a refresh. Plant-based dishes not only offer health, financial and climate benefits, but they are more colourful and flavoursome, too,” said Kassam.

She cited a cross-Atlantic example to punctuate this point: “In New York, where hospitals offer plant-based by default menus, the approval rating from patients was 95%, when fewer than 1% of patients were vegetarian and vegan. There is certainly an appetite to see change.”

Taste the biggest driver for vegan food in NHS hospitals

nhs vegan
Courtesy: Department of Health and Social Care

When asked what benefits people think a meat-free NHS – the UK’s biggest employer – could have, 30% of Brits say it would be more planet-friendly as well as healthier, while 25% each believe it could encourage healthy eating outside hospitals and is more inclusive of cultures and beliefs. Moreover, 24% believe it could save the NHS money.

They’re not wrong. One modelling study shows that a ‘plant-based by default’ approach could save the NHS £74M annually, with significant household savings too if patients are supported in making dietary shifts. It would also cut its carbon footprint by up to 50%, and reduce the prevalence of several major diseases.

Interestingly, 78% of Brits are in favour of having both plant-based and meat options at NHS hospitals. This group therefore be encouraged by the NHS’s recent deal with the country’s largest meat-free company, Quorn, which will see the latter’s mycoprotein be blended with meat for burgers and sausages. These will be on NHS menus by the end of the year.

But on the flip side of all this, only 23% of consumers think the public would support plant-based meals as a main option at NHS hospitals (54% believe the opposite). Plus, only 20% think a switch to fully vegan menus would positively impact patients’ health and wellbeing, compared to 40% who say it would have a negative effect.

And 53% say some patients may refuse to eat these meals, marking their biggest worry about vegan food in hospitals. Taste (35%), a lack of protein (34%), risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies (33%), a lack of familiarity with dishes (32%) and insufficient nutrition (30%) were other top concerns.

But across the board, taste is the number one factor that will drive more Brits to choose plant-based meals in NHS hospitals, with 41% saying so. People would also be drawn to these foods if they looked nicer than other options (35%), were healthier (28%), or came in bigger servings (15%). For 14% of people, climate-friendliness would be a driver towards vegan meals.

“Our goal is to normalise plant-based meals, and make them the prime offering over animal products. It’s vital for both health and sustainability goals that beans and lentils, which are nutritious and delicious, are encouraged and prioritised,” said Kassam. “It isn’t about meeting requirements for vegans and vegetarians, but making hospital food healthier overall by promoting the numerous benefits of plant-based foods.”


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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