We’ve all seen attempts before to change NHS culture, notably when Gerry Robinson came in and demanded to know why hospital operating theatres close at mid-day on a Friday. But although Robinson’s TV programme asked many questions, and suggested excellent solutions, the NHS still carry on wasting OUR money, and nothing changed. Same seems to have happened to the excellent work done by TV Chef James Martin. After having produced an enjoyable and thought-provoking TV series on food at Scarborough hospital – he’s disappeared. Emails arrive, asking me how people can contact James as they want to see if their hospital could hire him – but no reply from him, his PR company or the production company.

NHS Waste

Now comes a report saying one in twelve hospital meals is returned uneaten. According to NHS Trusts, this is costing over £22 million a year. What is worse, seven Trusts admit that one in five meals is returned – so WHY haven’t they called in Martin ? What is this waste food costing the NHS, let alone the patients’ health ? And the Care Quality Commission are about to issue a report warning of poor NHS practice over nutrition for the elderly. James Martin’s excellent series made many sensible points, from nutrition to pricing – but the NHS tends to aim for the lowest common denominator – rather than aiming for excellence (it’s easier). In the TV series, Pat Ball, Sharon and their team at Scarborough Hospital were right behind James, showing that patients can be given tasty, nutritious food – but to pay for this James had set up a restaurant aiming to make a profit which will be ploughed back into hospital food. The scary thing is, when the financial administration look at the books at the end of the year, Pat is going to have to fight very, very hard to keep any profit for the catering dept. We all wish her luck. She is going to need it to fight off greedy financial gurus wanting to get their hands on any profit.

Bringing in meals

Currently statistics say that 2/3rds of patients will have a meal bought in for them; a very sorry state, but something that happens all round the country. Even the Doctors at our local hospital (Chelsea and Westminster – supposedly NHS flagship) queue up every lunchtime at Tray Gourmet, a privately-run caterer opposite the hospital, to buy their baguettes because they are tastier. Even Michael Winner sent out for their baguettes when he was a patient earlier this year. But when I approached I.S.S (the hospital caterers) to ask why they couldn’t bring in a private firm that was offering fresh fruit nicely packaged, from a stall outside the hospital’s area – a very dismissive email zinged back, saying I.S.S. supplied fruit. Yes – they do. French apples and other fruit from abroad. But if patients choose a piece of fruit, they can’t have a pudding as well. And elderly people don’t have the teeth to bite into those hard, sour French apples.

Hospitals should lead the way

Following on from James Martin’s plea to get people eating local produce, why not get NHS hospitals to host Farmers’ markets on their forecourts, in car parks, atriums, parks, gardens or other areas? These could not only bring in extra income, but would also show patients and visitors the way to buy healthier food and support British farming. And echo what Martin was trying to put across in his programme, when he took Scarborough Hospital’s catering staff out to meet local producers.

Royal Brompton Hospital

Again and again this hospital is singled out for excellence in food. Yet somehow I don’t see a queue of hospital administrators following. Those of us who have been lucky enough to be patients at the Brompton (lauded in the TV programme) know that their policy of buying free range, local and where possible organic produce pays dividends. I still lick my lips when I remember their signature liver dish – scrummy! And I wouldn’t have minded eating it again, if menus are on a weekly cycle. As one patient remarked when asked if he minded dishes being repeated; he couldn’t even remember what he ate yesterday – let alone a week before.

Soil Association encouraging better nutrition

The Soil Association (SA) say “We think that good food should always be on the menu in hospitals – to help people get better and improve staff morale”. “In 2010, a survey revealed that nearly two thirds of people have bought in food from outside hospitals because the meals on offer were so unappetising”. The association’s Catering Mark offers patients a guarantee that what’s on the menu is free from controversial e-numbers including aspartame, tartrazine and MSG. Meals are freshly prepared and do not contain artificial trans fats or GM ingredients. James was very keen that Scarborough Hospital aspire to the SA’s Bronze Award – and we have to wait to see if Pat and her team achieve this. Over 10,000 meals which have received Soil Association ‘Food for Life Catering Mark’ bronze award are already being served in hospitals every day. ”

The Soil Association lay down a challenge :

“We know there are many more hospitals serving freshly prepared, locally sourced and organic food. Could your hospital be the first to receive a silver or gold award ?” So get YOUR hospital involved. “If you are concerned that changing food is too complicated, applying for the Catering Mark can help to make it simpler. We will advise you on the most effective changes to make to your menus and help you overcome any challenges”. Switching to healthy, sustainable food doesn’t always cost more. One hospital saved £6 million a year by cooking with fresh, local ingredients; another sources yoghurt from a local supplier for two thirds of the price of the nationally approved supplier. The SA believe that the best hospital food
  • is good for patients
  • good for NHS staff
  • good for British farmers and food businesses
  • good for Britain.
If you agree, why not get your hospital to apply for the Catering Mark and reassure patients that you care about food ?