11 NHS Trusts in England have opened food banks for staff as unions demand fair pay

Leading health unions have condemned the government’s “cavalier attitude” on NHS pay for staff as food banks open in hospital sites across the country to support struggling staff.

Eleven NHS trusts across England currently have food banks in place for staff, with many more implementing plans to help employees during the cost of living crisis.

Unions have said that the presence of food banks for NHS staff was "shocking" and argued that it shows that staff need an urgent wage boost during the worsening cost-of-living crisis.

NationalWorld contacted more than 200 NHS trusts across the country asking if food banks were in place for staff, with 136 of these replying. We found that 11 trusts have food banks in place for staff, some of which were put in place to tackle the current cost of living crisis.

Many others were found to have referral processes in place for staff needing access to external food banks, including some offering staff voucher schemes for local centres, and others were contemplating setting up internal food banks for employees.

Sara Gorton, head of health for the union Unison, told NationalWorld it’s a “shocking state when health workers providing vital care no longer have enough money for their families’ own welfare”.

She said there’s “no clearer example” of why NHS workers need an immediate wage boost “to keep them afloat”. Otherwise, staff will continue leaving for better paid work, workforce shortages will ​worsen and ​treatment backlogs increase, Ms Gorton added. “If the government doesn’t act quickly to put pay right, NHS staff will ​have no option but to strike over pay ​and staffing causing severe disruption this winter."

Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors committee, said: "The fact that NHS staff, who spend their working lives caring for others, cannot afford to feed themselves and their families is a terrible indictment of this government’s cavalier attitude to the impact its policies have on so many in society.”

He added: “At a time when the cost of living is soaring, chronic staff shortages in the NHS are just getting worse, and the remaining workforce is emotionally and physically scarred from the pandemic, it is simply galling that this government does not see fit to pay NHS staff fairly for their work.”

Dr Trivedi noted that while it’s important that NHS trusts put in place measures to support their staff, “the fact remains that staff should not be reliant on food banks and voucher schemes to cover our basic living expenses.”

Ten trusts have also specifically implemented initiatives to help staff with the current cost of living crisis, which include subsidised meals in hospital canteens, help with mileage costs, one-off payments of £100 to staff, access to a proportion of salary in advance of payday and vouchers to be used in school uniform shops.

Eleven NHS trusts across England currently have food banks in place for staff

Which NHS trusts in England have food banks for staff?

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust has had a food and clothing bank available to support patients since 2015, which aids the discharge process for some patients who may need extra support. This is also available to staff experiencing hardship.

James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Norfolk set up a staff food bank in 2020 during the first year of the Covid pandemic to provide support to any staff who needed it. This food bank is still in place, with staff both donating to it and collecting from a set collection point, with no questions asked.

Similarly, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust have a food bank for staff and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust also established a food bank for staff two years ago. Neither trust replied for request of further information about these food banks.

In April 2022, Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust set up a food bank at Darent Valley Hospital in Kent to support colleagues through the cost of living crisis. The trust said: “At Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, we very much value our staff and have provided high levels of emotional wellbeing and practical support to all since the start of the pandemic. Times are tough at the moment for many of our own staff and those from our partner organisations, so our own staff suggested we start a ‘Caring is Sharing’ onsite facility at Darent Valley Hospital where colleagues can donate food, clothing, toiletries, and other items for the benefit of others. This has proven to be very successful and complements our extensive range of staff health and wellbeing services.”

Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust also set up a staff food bank in response to the cost of living crisis, but declined to comment. However, Kate Jarman, the trust’s corporate affairs director, told the BBC it was the hospital’s "moral duty" to support its workers and that the food bank “shouldn’t be needed, but it is”.

Elsewhere, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has community pantries that offer food to staff and patients both in the Birmingham Women’s Hospital and the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Colleagues and patients’ families can donate food or toiletries for any patients or colleagues who need this.The trust said it receives a “generous supply of food and commodities each month” from its food pantry donors and is incredibly thankful to those who donate to the two hospital sites, ensuring patients and colleagues are supported throughout the winter period.

The food pantries were first set up in July 2022 as a part of the trust’s wellbeing initiative, providing an added line of support for both families and colleagues for day to day life. The Trust said the food pantries were set in place prior to the cost of living crisis as a community project to “empower our colleagues to support each other”, but began signposting them to staff more “during the period that people were thinking about the rising energy prices”.

Solent NHS Trust has also recently launched Solent Pantry, which provides easy and immediate access to a range of food, personal care and household goods to staff who need them. The pantry operates across a number of spaces on the Trust’s sites, across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and allows people to donate food, personal care and household items for others to make use of.

Similarly, Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust’s chaplaincy team set up a ‘Food Swap’ service for staff in June of this year in response to the cost of living crisis. This service is based in the main hospital site in Rotherham and allows colleagues to anonymously donate or collect food items.

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust also has a food bank for staff. Mark Smith, chief operating officer and deputy chief executive at the trust, said: “Supporting each other is something that makes University Hospitals Bristol & Weston (UHBW) a great place to work. We have several initiatives in place to support the financial wellbeing of our hard-working colleagues. We are piloting two self-service food pantries in our Bristol and Weston libraries. Colleagues can donate long-life goods and the pantries will be available for all UHBW employees to use, should they need to.”

Elsewhere, the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has also set up a food bank for staff. A spokesperson for the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital said: “The wellbeing and safety of our staff and patients is our top priority. As such, the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital has been working with and signposting to, the Northfield Community Partnership food bank to help and support any patient in crisis. For short term, emergency provisions, the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital has a small food bank on site available for staff. This work sits alongside mental, physical and financial wellbeing initiatives which are led by our wellbeing officer.”

‘We understand the huge pressures the current economic position is placing on many people’

Although Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust doesn’t have a food bank for staff, it has links with Trussell Trust and issues food vouchers to staff who need them. Staff can contact the wellbeing team in confidence and will then be provided with a voucher which they can use at their nearest food bank in exchange for a parcel of tinned and dried food which will provide at least three days of meals for individuals and families.

Stockport NHS Trust, which runs Stepping Hill Hospital and community services in Stockport, has a similar scheme in place for staff. A spokesperson said: “We understand the huge pressures the current economic position is placing on many people, including our own staff and the local population we serve. As a result we are working with all our partners across Stockport to ensure those facing the greatest hardship have access to a range of support. This includes Stockport Food Bank, where we are offering our staff the option of accessing vouchers for use with the food bank if needed.”

Meanwhile, three other NHS Trusts are currently exploring setting up a food bank for staff.

Leeds Community Healthcare Trust said: “We are not operating any food pantries for our community teams at present, but the idea is being explored. The Trust does have a range of ongoing staff health and wellbeing packages in place to support people with issues, including those that may be as a result of the cost of living.”

Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust added: “We do not currently have food banks set up, but there are active discussions taking place amongst senior managers with our staff on what types of additional support we can offer staff in light of the national rise of cost of living.”

Birmingham and Solihull NHS Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs more than 40 sites, doesn’t offer food banks for staff, but said it is something it is currently looking into.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust also doesn’t have any food banks, but it works closely with food banks and directs staff to them when required. The Trust is in the process of setting up something in its East Surrey Hospital for staff and the local community, which would be food based but wouldn’t be classed as a food bank.

What has the government said?

A government spokesperson said: “We value the hard work of NHS staff and are doing what we can to support them in these challenging times - including by giving over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body, on top of 3% last year when pay was frozen in the wider public sector.

“We are directly supporting households in need following the aftershocks on the economy from the pandemic and Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine, including sending another Cost of Living Payment this month worth £324 to over 8 million people, part of a £1,200 package for those on the lowest incomes.”