A healthcare worker carrying a pate of food and drink for a patient

Adapting to & coping with catering jobs in healthcare environments amidst COVID-19

In the quest for catering jobs, restaurants and hotels are often the first place we would think of. However, there is another large sector for catering staff – healthcare; the NHS and private. It is not only the healthcare staff that keep the wheels of this British institution rolling, there is a huge infrastructure of Chefs, Catering Assistants, Kitchen Porters and Cleaners and these hospital jobs are still in demand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The catering and hospitality sector has understandably been hit hard by the current crisis. As restaurants, pubs and hotels had to close their kitchens, many catering jobs were lost or put on hold. This is one profession where you really cannot work from home. During this time, everyone is having to adapt to a new kind of ‘normal’ whether that means being unable to work, working from home, being a keyworker or being able to return to work with social distancing in place. For those who work in catering, this is a particular challenge, as the long-term impact on the industry and catering jobs is still largely unknown. 

Where can you find catering jobs during COVID-19?

Despite the changes to our usual way of life, hospital jobs and care home jobs for Chefs and Catering Assistants are still in demand. Patients, residents and staff still need to eat, so the kitchens remain open and catering staff in these environments are considered key workers, the same as others in NHS jobs and healthcare and residential care environments.  

Aside from the usual catering and housekeeping positions in hospitals, such as Chef, Catering Assistant and Kitchen Porter, COVID-19 has brought about some previously unknown job roles. 

  • Ward Host / Catering Assistant – this role involves direct interaction with patients, the primary aim being to serve patients their meals and maintain cleanliness and hygiene standards in all food related operations on the ward. 
  • Patient Ambassador – this new hospital job role was created to serve as a liaison between patients, nursing staff, catering staff and domestic staff to ensure all professional teams work together effectively to maintain a safe, hygienic environment for everyone.  

How is working in a hospital or care home environment different from other catering jobs?

Catering jobs in a hospital or care home both require a degree of flexibility. Care homes can be relatively small and you are likely part of only a small team of staff. In some cases you may be the Kitchen Porter, the Chef and the Catering Assistant all rolled into one, so it is important that you are well organised and able to adapt to cover whatever tasks are required. 

Working in a hospital job will mean being part of a much larger team in a bigger establishment but again, many of the emerging hospital jobs for catering staff require someone who is multi-skilled and can adapt to a variety of different duties across the board of catering – from food preparation, to food service, to re-stocking to cleaning. 

What new challenges do these catering jobs face due to COVID-19?

Applying for temporary hospital jobs or care home jobs is definitely worth considering as a way to continue working in a catering or hospitality environment during this uncertain time. However, there are certain challenges to consider that are different to those faced in restaurant jobs.

Working in a hospital or care home environment means that you are in close contact with vulnerable people. It is therefore more important than ever to establish good hygiene practices and safety procedures to reduce the chance of any potential infections reaching either the patients or the employees. 

Good hygiene should be second nature to anyone who has previously worked in a food preparation or food handling environment, so much of the advice for COVID-19 will be common practice for Chefs and Catering Assistants. Now more than ever, food hygiene and general hygiene must be adhered to at all times, as well as the social distancing practices that we have all become used to. 

Specific key points to remember are:

  • Always wash hands or use hand sanitiser on entering and leaving the premises.
  • Wash hands regularly, being extra vigilant after touching non-food related items such as door handles and items patients or residents may have touched.
  • Sanitise and disinfect all work surfaces and food preparation areas regularly.
  • Maintain a 2 metre distance with colleagues as much as possible while working and during breaks.

Employers should have carried out a risk assessment and will have a plan in place to manage social distancing and hygiene as much as is possible in the workplace. This will vary from kitchen to kitchen and between different facilities, as the size and layout of the premises will never be the same from one place to the next. The number of staff, patients or residents will all affect how social distancing and safety precautions can be best managed, so it is important for each hospital or care home to establish their own rules and procedures.

For hospital jobs where you are in direct contact with the patients, such as the Ward Host and Patient Ambassador positions mentioned earlier, you need to be prepared for working in a hospital ward environment, which will be quite different from anything you’ve done before. Being in close contact with patients means you need to be especially careful and will be required to wear appropriate uniform and protective clothing. If you are not used to working in this sort of environment it is something you should think carefully about as it is not always easy, especially if you have never worked in, or are not experienced or trained in healthcare. 

Brush up on your food hygiene knowledge by reading our blog post on Food Hygiene Standards.

Further information on different working environments

Next steps in finding catering jobs

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