Anger at poor NHS food as chefs win culinary award

The corned beef has served up at the Western General. Picture: contributed
The corned beef has served up at the Western General. Picture: contributed
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A TEAM of chefs at NHS Lothian have won a top food award – as patients were being dished up meals one relative said they “wouldn’t feed to a dog”.

The health board team was crowned winner of the first NHS Good Food Challenge, in which cooks were challenged to come up with Scottish-themed meals. The gourmet menu included smoked mackerel pate with chilli and coriander oatcakes and Ayrshire pork stuffed with black pudding and haggis, potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Each course was said to have been prepared on the same £1.50 budget as a meal at one of the Capital’s hospitals.
However, as judges marvelled in the “restaurant quality” food, a hospital menu was branded “terrible”.

Kat Troake, whose 76-year-old grandmother was admitted to the Western General with breathing difficulties, said the standard was so bad, family members were having to take food in. She was visiting when Susan Drummond ordered a meal and was appalled when the corned beef hash arrived.

“It looked like somebody had picked it up with their hands and splodged it on her plate. It was disgusting,” she said. “I’m not surprised Nana wouldn’t eat anything.

“I complained and NHS Lothian said it was meant to be a wholesome meal, but anybody looking at that will realise it is not something that would make anyone feel better. It wasn’t just that meal, it was others like a jacket potato that was not even a baking potato. We had to bring food for her.” When Ms Troake tweeted a picture of the hash with the comment, “wouldnt feed it to a dog”, other social media users supported her, including one who said they had also had to take in extra food to a loved one in hospital.

Award-winning city chef Mark Greenaway, who found quality lacking when his mum was treated for cancer several years ago, said there were “huge challenges to be addressed” in hospital food. He blamed re-heating food, or leaving it to stand for the sloppy appearance, and said the process made meals lose nutritional content.

“What we should be doing in hospitals is encouraging people to eat really well, fuelling them up to get better a lot quicker,” he said. “Patients are getting the best care medically but if they are not eating what is put in front of them, that’s going to slow the healing process.”

Mr Greenaway even offered his expertise to hospitals in a bid to improve their offerings.

“I’ve said before, if any hospitals want to get in touch, it’s not hard to find me. I would love to take one on board and say ‘how can we help?’.”

The health board has a catering budget of £4 million a year, excluding the Royal Infirmary which sees meals provided as part of the cost of the PFI deal. It cooks food fresh for its hospitals, with the exception of the Royal Victoria building. Food at the ERI is bought in frozen by the firms that run the hospital.

Dr Jean Turner, a former GP and executive director of Scotland Patients Association, said poor-quality remained one of the biggest gripes for patients.

She said: “Unfortunately I do still hear about bad hospital food. I was always taught from my early days in medicine that food was a treatment. The most important thing is to get patients eating with appetising and nutritional food so they can build themselves up to go home.”

Stuart Wilson, director of communications and public Affairs, NHS Lothian said: “We are very sorry this patient has found the quality of food to be below standard and apologise that this was their experience.

“NHS Lothian prides itself on providing quality and nutritious meals and the quality of our food has been widely recognised. NHS Lothian is in the process of creating a new catering strategy which will reflect the links between health and well-being. The food made available for in-patients and outpatients at NHS Lothian sites will all be reviewed. In due course, this strategy will be presented for public consultation.”

Prize-winning meals that rose to challenge

The NHS Good Food Challenge is a new competition which tests the skills and imagination of hospital catering teams across Scotland.

Contest judges said they were looking for healthy meals, using fresh local ingredients, which could be made and delivered in the hospital environment. Participants took part in the grand final at Clydebank and were asked to produce up to 50 of their dishes at the same time.

Judge Joe Queen singled out Lothian for praise. He said: “Whether in a restaurant, hospital or anywhere else, chefs want the chance to show what they can deliver. All the contestants did so here, especially those from NHS Lothian.”

David Bedwell, director at Health Facilities Scotland, said: “We are committed to providing patients with the best nutritional care possible.”