Food packaging accessibility is now a requirement for half of public hospitals in Australia, in a move to help those who struggle to open packages.
For the elderly or those with a disability, food packaging can be an insurmountable barrier.
As a result, Health Purchasing Victoria (HPV) has signed a state-wide Catering Supplies contract, partnering with Health Share NSW to mandate that public hospital suppliers provide Packaging Accessibility Ratings.
Combined, Victoria and NSW represent more than half of Australia’s public hospitals.
Hard-to-open food packaging represents a significant risk to patient care as it prevents patients from receiving adequate nutrition.
The rating estimates the percentage of consumers who can safely open portion-control food packaging, and uses a scale to determine how easy and safe packages are to open.
The rating is used on a comparative basis, for example, if one supplier has a higher rating than another, it will provide them with a competitive advantage when hospital staff select products from the HPV Catering Supplies contract.
The rating was developed in collaboration with HealthShare NSW, Arthritis Australia, Nestle and GTRI (USA).
“As a health procurement organisation, our sourcing decisions are driven by what supports better patient care,” said HPV’s chief executive, Megan Main.
"When it comes to food products in a hospital, we had a responsibility from a procurement perspective to source an accessible product that wouldn’t impede quality care.
“We know from health service feedback that in many cases if a patient is unable to open the packaging, they simply don’t eat the food."
In a funding-constrained sector, HPV boosts the collective purchasing power of Victorian public hospitals as it negotiates with the buying power of the state.
“What industry wants is a single national standard, which recognises and rewards innovation at procurement level,” said David Carter, president of the Packaging Council of Australia.
“Suppliers want to be judged on meeting consumer needs and quality – not just price.
"The rating goes a long way towards achieving that.”
The rating also supports Australian manufacturing, because Australian suppliers have greater flexibility to be able to redesign packaging for Australians.
“Nearly two thirds of food products supplied to NSW hospitals have been replaced or redesigned because of the rating, and this number will grow because of the alliance with HPV,” said Carmen Rechbauer, director of Food and Patient Services, HealthShare NSW.
"The rating has a proven track record in recognising and rewarding suppliers that innovate to better meet patient needs."
HPV has also provided suppliers with a set of Packaging Accessibility Design Guidelines to assist manufacturers to design easy to open and read packaging.
The guidelines identify the most common accessibility issues associated with packaging and suggest possible ways these issues can be overcome.
They are available upon request from Health Purchasing Victoria and HealthShare NSW.
For more details on the initiative, click here.