At the table with … Andy Jones

14/03/2013 - 15:04
Steeped in the traditions of healthcare catering, Andy Jones, the Service Development Director for ISS Facility Services (Healthcare, Education and Defence) tells us good food is often the best medicine for hospital patients

When you were at school what was your dream job?
From the age of 10, my ambition was to be a chef in the RAF. This was driven by my interest in WWII, and the fact that my uncle was a chef in the RAF.

What did you end up doing?
I ended up being a chef; but the twist was that, at the age of 12, in order to achieve my dream, I had to get permission from my headmaster to allow me to attend night school. So, once a week, on a Tuesday from 6pm to 9pm, I attended the class along with housewives and single men wanting to further their catering knowledge. But, of course, being a 12-year-old boy, I was rather spoilt. I finished up being the star pupil. Even when I was still at school, Saturday nights were spent at home in the kitchen, creating and experimenting. The family didn’t eat better for the rest of the week.

How did you get into catering?
In essence, I was born into it. My late grandmother was a cook at George Elliott Hospital in Nuneaton. I used to help her cook and decorate cakes from a very young age and of course, I did what every schoolboy did; when my mother cooked, I helped to clean the mixing bowl. When all my friends were doing woodwork and metalwork, I was taking the playground ‘banter’ because I was doing cooking. The highlight was being taken out of class to cook for governors and visitors from the age of about 13 and also at my senior school at least once a week. I had an objective – to get into the RAF. However, people who know me knew that wearing glasses wasn’t my problem, it was my weight. So my second choice was to apply to catering college, firstly by sitting an entry exam. I managed to get in at Southfields College, Leicester, and also Loughborough College – both had excellent records. At the same time I saw a job advertised for an apprenticeship which my father always wanted me to do, so I applied for the National Trainee Cooking Scheme with the NHS at Leicester General Hospital, where I was also successful. So, it was a case of “do I get up at eight in the morning and be a student for a couple of years or five in the morning to get to Leicester for eight o’clock to do an 8am to 5pm shift before returning to Hinckley, a trip of about 20 miles on the bus (I couldn’t drive) every day? I took the harder option of day-release and accepted the job. I ended up doing 15 hours a day, but it was well worth it. Catering is a passion, but catering for people who are vulnerable is an even better calling.

How did your career develop after that?
With the National Trainee Scheme I gained my 706/1 & 2, then took 706/3, NEBSS (National Examinations Board in Supervisory Studies) and eventually HCIMA (Hotel Catering and International Management Association), all generously funded by the NHS. I became an assistant chef, then chef, before taking on the role of head chef at Leicester General Hospital. But my career really took off when Pat Quirke (who is now also working with ISS) came into the kitchen and asked if I would like to be a manager. I laughed – why would I want to be a manager? All that stress, all that hassle, but Pat persuaded me. So I took a pay cut, yes a pay cut. A mortgage, a child on the way and I took a pay cut. You can imagine how popular I was at home. Pat put me on a round of intensive courses, sponsoring and mentoring me all the way. I then took my first steps out of just pure catering and became a learning and development manager at the NHS covering all facility services. I helped develop the Leicestershire-wide cook-chill system. When competitive tendering came in, I led the in-house bid and was brought back into catering. Within six months I had turned a £1.5m overspend around. I also got to lead an in-house bid. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) we weren’t successful and a company called ISS took over. I remember sitting with company director Anne Cooper and managing director Simon Cox who asked, ‘Where do you want to be?’ I answered, ‘Simon, I want to be successful. I would like to be MD, but at the end of the day I’m here to serve the patients and make them better.’ Ann Cooper asked if I had any ambitions to further my career and I remember saying to her, ‘You drive a Calibra. That will do me.’ My passion was always to succeed. I have always been one to strive to be better, not just for myself, but for the people I serve and I think that is key. Within 18 months I was an ISS regional director and then was offered the chance to be director of catering for ISS, leading the company’s growing catering portfolio. So I took the job, learned from my mentor and have driven on from there.

How did the opportunity to join ISS come about?
I guess some would say it wasn’t by choice but through competitive tendering. I was at the pinnacle in the NHS, I could have gone on to be a facilities director, but the opportunities in those days were few and far between. I saw ISS as a great opportunity, so unlike some when a contractor takes over, I didn’t go into my shell – I embraced it. I loved it and I believe the rewards were justified. I’ve never lost the focus. I am passionate about ISS and I’m passionate about the people I serve. I know I keep saying that, but it’s true.

Did you realise just how big the company was? 
No, and I still don’t think people know just how big ISS is today – we employ over half a million people across the globe. We don’t shout about things; we just get on and do it. That’s one of the things I love about it. Simon Cox has this philosophy: ‘It’s a big company with a family attitude’ – that works for me.

Was there a difference in approach when you became part of a contractor?
Some would say yes. When I left the NHS they were glad to see the back of me. I was a radical, someone who thought differently and was driven. I would try to break NHS buying standards because I felt that we didn’t always serve the best food to the patients and the staff in the restaurants. If that meant finding another way to do things, then that’s what I did. I always wanted to make a profit in the restaurants because I could then re-invest it into the patient menus. In that respect I didn’t see much difference. The change in culture was largely around process and I think that is something the NHS could still learn from today – it struggles to share best practice. We have to develop ways that allow much more innovation within healthcare catering, with the NHS, contractors and suppliers all looking to deliver service excellence.

What’s your basic philosophy as a healthcare caterer?
That’s easy: treat every patient as I would my mother. Good food served to patients improves their well-being and speeds their recovery. We all know that good food is the best form of medicine and that philosophy will never change. People know me as someone who is passionate, some might even say ‘bolshie’. But it’s my passion and the patient in the bed is what drives me. I think that’s my key philosophy, and I’m always willing to learn. I also believe that nothing is impossible – the word should be banned.

What were your major challenges when you became director of catering for ISS Mediclean?
One of my major challenges was to get rid of some of the poor or irrelevant ‘best practice’ in the business. We needed to create a whole new set of processes and guides. The first step we made was to introduce INNOV8, a web-based repository for everything our managers needed to know about each service. These living resources have now become our ‘single version of the truth’, ensuring everyone has the most up-to-date information at their fingertips. We’ve got a great, passionate team at ISS so I simply had to get everyone to buy into the new way of doing things. I guess the major challenge was to get everybody to accept and understand exactly what my vision looked like. People know that when I am on site I will be critical, but will also praise. I’m forever questioning, ‘Why do we need 15 grades of broccoli, why do we need all these different sizes of milk packs?’

When did you get involved with the industry organisation the Hospital Caterers’ Association (HCA)?
It was the day I started in the NHS, although as trainee chefs at the time we weren’t officially allowed to be members. I was taken along to meetings by my manager Peter Naylor, our district catering manager at the time. That’s when I started to get involved with the Trent branch. I became an official member back in the mid-1980s with the West Midlands branch and I have stayed with them ever since. I believe the HCA is one association that has the same ethos and passion as me but it also has the key to influence at Government level.

Has ISS been supportive of your involvement with the HCA?
I couldn’t have asked for more. The company actively encourages its managers to be become part of the professional associations. My current line manager Tom Wild is very supportive. When I told them I had been nominated as vice chair of the association, Simon and Tom could have told me I had to do it in my own time, but they embraced the idea, saying that they would support me in all my endeavours to assist the association. It wasn’t just about assisting Andy Jones; it was about assisting the HCA. They share the same ethos regarding the patients.

What are the concerns shared by a healthcare contractor like ISS and hospital caterers employed directly by an NHS trust?
Our concerns are the same: maintaining our standards while trying to ring-fence budgets. The catering and cleaning budgets are the easiest targets for cost improvement programmes. We have to protect the existing budgets and ensure that we deliver a consistent level of service. Hospital caterers have got to be able to clearly demonstrate that good food is the best form of medicine – another mantra of mine. Public and media perception is also a concern. I’m not being critical here, but I don’t think the press realise that attacking their local hospital demoralises the people who work there. We should be campaigning at government level for national standards and a minimum national feeding tariff. I do not support a single national menu because different regions have their own identity, but there is a good argument for national specifications. I also believe that we need to address the issue of hydration at ward level. We are currently working on a major initiative in this area. Lastly, one of the biggest frustrations is protected meal times, which ideally means patients are left in peace to enjoy their food and staff have the time to assist in feeding if required. If we could ensure this was mandatory, I guess that would solve many of the problems facing contractors and hospital caterers.

What are the major business challenges you face?
Cost improvements, a diverse workforce and ageing patients. The recession is presenting steep challenges, and the savings required across the NHS are eye-watering. The recruitment of fully-trained staff is also an issue. We need to campaign for the reinstatement of the good old City and Guilds. We cannot all be celebrity chefs and the fundamental skills are as relevant today as they always were. We’ve got to get the skill set and knowledge back into the industry and I know that is not just a challenge for the NHS or Andy Jones, it’s a challenge for the whole catering sector.

ISS is an international group; how does that impact on you as a caterer?
It’s allowed us to share best practice across the world. To look at different ideas, concepts and suppliers from the other ISS countries who offer services into healthcare, education and defence. It also allows us to share knowledge and information. An example of this is that my colleagues in Holland and Turkey are just about to deploy the I-Wave units we have pioneered here in the UK.

Hospital caterers often claim that food is medicine. What does that mean to you?
We don’t just claim it. It is a proven clinical fact that good wholesome nutritious food has a positive result in the recovery of the patient. Caterers should provide the food that patients want, not anything complicated or fancy. Menus should be developed in consultation with patients and shaped by patients. At the end of the day, if they do not eat the food, they are not going to get better. This is what we mean; when well presented, nutritious food is served with a smile and consumed at the right temperature it has much more chance of being accepted. Our dieticians are a vital part of our team, and they are keen to point out that there is no nutritional value in an uneaten meal.

Hospital food is an easy target for complaints. Why is that?
I think that people look forward to three or four things when they are in hospital; visitors, the newspapers arriving and going home. But the highlight of the day is the food, so if the meal disappoints it is not surprising that people become critical. I also think that it has become an easy target because not many people are prepared to complain about the clinical side of their treatment. Another, often unappreciated, reason is that when you are ill your taste buds and appetite change. This can be misconstrued as ‘the food wasn’t nice, I didn’t enjoy it’. In reality, it’s more a case of ‘I just didn’t feel like eating at the time’. How often, when you have been poorly, have you just wanted your own simple comfort food?

Are public sector spending cuts having an impact on your business?
Oh, yes. However, we are rising to the challenge; we are able to develop our services differently, particularly where we are responsible for multiple services, and look at innovative ways of delivering the service. But one thing that we have got to ensure is that we do not impact on the service we are giving to patients. This is critical. Facility budgets have traditionally been easy targets to attack and we have to stop it, particularly with ever-rising food costs.

How much of an issue are those rising food costs?
They are certainly causing concern. Caterers expect volatility in certain markets and seasonal changes, but the current trends are unprecedented. Our business depends upon fixed cost agreements, with perhaps an annual review, so keeping a tight rein on budgets is critical. Although people are seeing increases in the shops, they don’t want to see it reflected on the tills at work or in their tariffs for patient catering.

Through its Responsibility Deal, the Government is encouraging private companies to help improve people’s diet and nutrition. What’s your view of this?
Broadly we welcome this; however, we have to be careful within our sector. In healthcare, it’s not about healthy eating as such for many patients. I don’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to educate patients, but it’s more likely we’ll see patients coming into hospital malnourished; so it’s about getting calories into them. Therefore it’s about educating them to eat sensibly and maintaining a balanced diet. I believe that we need to improve meal choices. That is why we signed up to be the first caterers to pilot calorific labelling on our retail menus. We’re currently in the process of finalising the roll-out to all sites, which has not been easy because of the lack of detailed, corroborated nutritional information. For our retail element ISS look to highlight the healthy products and encourage people to buy them through different mechanisms; meal deals, prices etc. I must reiterate, though, that with patients it’s about eating for good health and not about healthy eating as such. We need to be clear on that.

What’s your forecast for the UK economy for the next 12 months?
It’s mixed. I see the economy growing, albeit very slowly, so I am optimistic for the long term. Sadly, though, I cannot see an end to the rising costs of raw ingredients, and this will have a major impact upon public sector services. As we know there will be no general elections in the year so we cannot expect any Government windfalls, so I guess we must ‘Keep Calm and Keep Cooking’. That being said, we are hoping to see some clearer guidance from the Government on market-testing their support services. There is a lot of pent-up frustration out there in the Trusts who feel market testing can attract investment and innovation. Companies like ours, and the in-house teams, must be ready to step up to the plate and help raise the standards of healthcare catering whenever and wherever possible.

Are you optimistic about the future?
Yes, I am very optimistic about the future. I always am optimistic but I do feel that market testing is the way forward. But it’s not so much the economic view that I am optimistic about; it’s that we can and will move towards improving people’s diets and health and giving patients the food that they want. One of the things we are championing through the HCA is the appointment of a healthcare tsar, somebody who knows about healthcare and public sector catering. The ideal candidate must have passion, dedication and a vision. It doesn’t necessarily need someone who is an academic but someone who can pull all the best practice together. So I am very optimistic about the future, not only within contract and healthcare catering, but also about delivering for the patients and for the customers in the retail sector.

If you had five minutes with David Cameron, what would you tell him?
Well that’s very easy: sort out the British economy. And while you are doing that appoint a healthcare/public sector catering tsar, who can pull everything together and issue best practice guidance which must be mandatory. Sort this out today, David, put the NHS back where it belongs – into the hands of the people and for all. Also let’s make something of the Olympic legacy by giving support to sport at all levels, including making it mandatory in schools. This would help solve some of the health issues. Lastly, ban rich owners of football clubs.

What’s your dream three-course meal?
That’s a difficult one. I have changed my lifestyle considerably over the last few years but it would be foie gras or escargot, followed by the thing I love most: Welsh leg of lamb, mint sauce, fresh garden peas, roast and new potatoes. Just simple food and a nice jus roti. For the pudding, I have two choices and it’s very difficult – bread and butter pudding or rice pudding? That is why I created a new dish with both. But if I am really honest, it would be bread and butter pudding (my Gran’s recipe).

If you hadn’t had your career, what would you have liked to do?
I would like to have been a professional footballer, playing for Arsenal, or to have managed Arsenal. Other than that, it was always a chef.

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