Providing food for parents of children in hospital

Meals provided for parents stored in a fridge.


In England, 2 million children (19%) live in low-income families – up from 15% in 2015. In the North 6% more children live in poverty compared to all of England.

As rising housing, energy and food costs put more people in the position of making difficult choices, thinking about how to poverty-proof children’s healthcare is an issue we discuss frequently across the CHA.

Resident parents or carers have little choice in relation to their own food provision whilst their child is in hospital.  They often rely on more expensive retail outlets which can result in additional financial stress, skipping meals and eating less healthily. 


To address this issue, nine CHA pilot sites were given £10k funding through NHS England to offer free or subsidised meals for resident parents and carers during their child’s hospital stay. This trial was inspired by the charity Sophie’s Legacy and delivered in partnership with the NHSE Food Provision team and a number of Trust charities.

The aim of the collaboration was to rapidly test various approaches to reduce financial stress and improve the well-being of parents and caregivers.

Sophie's Legacy Pilot Initiatives - Breakfast on the wards, Voucher for a hot meal, Having refreshments and fruit, Additional support from Trust charities and Longer stay resident parents

“This has made a huge difference to me and my child, as I’ve been able to stay and help support my child on their most difficult and poorly days as I’m not hungry and am able to give better support. This has also ensured that I have not had to go into debt to afford to eat whilst my child is staying in the hospital and I cannot work.”

Enablers and good practices

  • Strong Leadership: The CHA Chief Nurses and Facilities leads have been instrumental in supporting the sustainable delivery within each trust.
  • Programme support from the CHA PMO: the support that they received from the project working groups and in particular the programme manager, who helped to solve problems and advise on implementation.
  • Mutual support between Trusts: many Trusts highlighted the value of working together and sharing solutions and protocols.
  • Strong communication & engagement strategy: to support ward and facilities staff to deliver the intervention effectively and with dignity and respect.

What did we learn?

  • Most schemes involved a voucher scheme which was handed out to families taking part in the pilot scheme.
  • All pilots significantly helped poverty-proof inpatient services releasing the financial and emotional burdens for patients and parents/carers.
  • There was a positive impact on the well-being of caregivers and their ability to provide continuity of care once the patient was discharged.
  • However, there remain some challenges around the cost implications to sustain the work of the pilots, additional pressures on catering teams, equipment etc. Schemes can not be a one-size-fits-all due to the ward environments and catering equipment and contracts.

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