Ladies and gentlemen I am very grateful to Dr Michael Dixon for crediting me with something that I don't think is really true at all, but at the same time, if I may say so, it's a great joy to get so many of you here on this occasion, so many experts and so many people involved, as it were, at the coalface in all these areas that you have been discussing today. I am not sure you need me to add very much more because I know you have already had all sorts of people telling you about their own experiences, Calderdale and indeed others who have already helped to lead the way in this whole field of not only hospital food but also in schools and elsewhere.
I have actually taken quite a lot of interest particularly as Parton of the Soil Association, which I have been Patron of that organisation for something like 30 or more years, so I greatly admire the work they have all been doing, and certainly for the last ten years I have been encouraged at the success that some hospitals have had in making really good food available to their patients and staff.
It was back in 2008 that I attended a Soil Association seminar for NHS Trust chief executives at the ground-breaking Royal Brompton Hospital where the then catering manager, Mike Duckett, who I am so pleased is here today even though he is retired, I thought it was vital to get him back here because he really has done so much to pioneer in this whole field. He was an inspiration to so many interested in good hospital food and I was fascinated in the way that he had persuaded the hospital authorities, as catering manager, to let him open the shutdown hospital kitchens, to bring in an organic chef, to then link with a hub of farmers which he developed in Kent - which is still going now - so that fresh and seasonal produce could be supplied to the hospital. He also set up a restaurant which actually made money, and at the end of the day he reduced waste in the hospital enormously, because the food was so much better, and obviously they had all sorts of other positive outcomes. And somehow he managed to do all this on the existing budget, and that was the really remarkable point.
So what we hoped by that seminar is that we would somehow get the message through on a 'seeing is believing' basis, that there was hope in terms of what could be done. And I remember on that occasion at the Royal Brompton I said that I felt "we needed to see food as a medicine in itself " and not only that, but if you think about it, what was being done at the Royal Brompton, and now in various other hospitals with the catering mark and everything else, is ticking an enormous number of appropriate boxes as far as enhanced sustainability, local sourcing, lower food miles and better patient health. So in fact you are creating a much more virtuous circle by looking at this whole issue of local sourcing and local hubs, whether it's local hubs of farmers linked to local hubs of hospitals, schools, prisons, Ministry of Defence establishments - you name it - the opportunities are enormous in terms of what can be done locally, to improve the local economy and everything else, and of course reducing transport costs and food miles.
So altogether this whole approach does have huge benefits and I have never forgotten at Brompton Hospital hearing that the cost to the NHS of, wait for it, constipation was something like £100 million a year! And when you think about it there's an awful lot that perhaps could be done to help reduce some of that. And perhaps, Ladies and Gentleman, you can imagine just how delighted I was that last month NHS England launched an initiative CQUIN, which for the first time actually encouraged commissioners to make hospital food a clinical priority , in line with the Department of Health's new principle of rewarding excellence in hospital food. I know that having visited Nottingham University Hospital Trust back in 2009 to deliver the first Food for Life Catering Mark Awards that Nottingham City Hospital is another leader in this area, and was of course the first hospital to be awarded a Food for Life Catering Mark.
So all I can say Ladies and Gentleman on this occasion is I do pray that this whole new initiative will gather impetus and force as a result of so many of you helping to lead the way. I'm sure this will feed enormously into improving not only people's health but also reducing the levels of malnutrition amongst the elderly, and all sorts of other areas that have needed attention, it seems to me, for a very long time.
I do wish you every possible good fortune and I look forward to hearing and seeing the results in due course.