Hospital VIP food cost 12 times more than patients’

Picture (posed by models): Neil Hanna
Picture (posed by models): Neil Hanna
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Posh nosh for hospital corporate clients can cost a whopping 12 times more than a day’s worth of food for patients on wards, an Evening News investigation has found.

The cost of fancy fare served up to VIPs by Edinburgh Royal Infirmary chefs makes the £4.50 a day the health board spends on patients pale in comparison.

For as little as £1.50 per meal, taxpayers receive standard menus including toast for breakfast, soup for lunch and fish and chips for dinner. The figure covers the basic cost of the ingredients without the price of them being cooked added in.

However a menu – obtained by the Evening News – today reveals gourmet spreads costing as much as £17-a-head are being served up by ERI caterer Balfour Beatty Workplace to high-end corporate clients.

Items available at functions catered for by ERI hospital chefs include fresh cucumber, courgette and minted yoghurt salads, roast sirloin of Scotch beef, a selection of fresh fruits and red onion, spinach and soft herb 
fritattas. The meals are prepared in 
hospital kitchens alongside microwaved food for recovering patients.

NHS Lothian – which pays private firm Balfour Beatty Workplace for meals as part of its £60 million PFI contract – admits it has ordered from the lavish hospitality menu for “one-off” events in the past. However, last night health bosses played down the extent of its use of the service, saying they mainly order tea and coffee from Balfour Beatty for their own internal meetings.

The revelations are set against a bleak picture where Age UK (formerly Age Concern) has campaigned to put an end to malnutrition in Scottish hospitals since 2006.

Senior MSPs and healthy food campaigners today said that the issue of poor food being served up in hospitals has gone on for too long – and called on the operators of the Royal Infirmary to show the same creativity for patients as they had for corporate clients.

Jackson Carlaw, Tory MSP and the party’s health spokesman at Holyrood, said it was wrong that the region’s most vulnerable patients were left to live on “stodge” while bigwigs were treated to “wholly unnecessary excess”.

“Given the tens of millions splurged on those who run the ERI every year, patients are right to expect better,” he added. “Perhaps Balfour Beatty should be as imaginative with their patients’ menu as they are with their own.”

The corporate menu at the Royal Infirmary – for which clients including the NHS would be charged up to £17.86 per head for a single buffet lunch – lists herbal and fruit infused teas, breakfast rolls, cheese boards and carrot cakes as among the items on offer to hospital visitors. Senior NHS Lothian bosses are also fed tasty sandwiches, wraps and fresh fruit at monthly board meetings at the health board’s city centre headquarters in Waverley Gate.

Trade unions said the menu was another example of the firms behind the Royal Infirmary PFI deal exploiting NHS facilities to make cash.

David Forbes, a regional organiser in the NHS for Unison, said: “I would question a situation where, yet again, it appears this disastrous PFI contract is there principally to make a profit for Balfour Beatty and Consort. Facilities and space are being used for private work, rather than for the benefit of patients and staff.”

One patient, writing on the Scottish Government-backed Patient Opinion website last month, said even staff at the ERI agreed that the food on offer was “atrocious”.

“I was bitterly disappointed in the food that was offered to me in the ward,” the patient said. “I was in for two weeks and lived out of the canteen. The food on offer in the ward was not healthy and consisted of pre-frozen offerings. You expect patients to recover in quick time but surely not on the burnt offerings that it was expected of us to eat.”

NHS Lothian said in the past 12 months it has received just nine formal complaints about food, although more than half had been about the Royal Infirmary. The health board has a catering budget of £4m a year, excluding the Royal Infirmary which sees meals provided as part of the cost of the PFI deal. Lynne Douglas, allied health professional director with NHS Lothian, said: “Having adequate nutritional care not only aids recovery, but also helps to promote future health and wellbeing. Menus for patient meals are carefully devised with the assistance of our catering and dietetic staff, working closely with our private sector partner, Consort, to ensure that patients have a nutritious and balanced selection to choose from whilst in our care.”

NHS Lothian cooks food fresh for its own hospitals, with the exception of the Royal Victoria building. Food at the privately-owned Royal Infirmary is bought in frozen by the firms that run the hospital. Balfour Beatty Workplace and Consort did not say how much per day is spent on food for patients when asked by the Evening News. Consort, which has overall responsibility for running the hospital and employs Balfour Beatty as a sub-contractor, also refused to answer any questions.

Hospitality menu


Freshly-baked croissants

Pork link sausage

morning roll

Homemade granola

yoghurt pots


Duck and hoi sin wraps with shredded cucumber

Roast sirloin of beef served with Arran mustard

Apricot and basil cous cous salad


Raspberry cranachan

cups with shortbread

Scottish cheeses with celery and apples

Patient menu








Sandwiches with a

choice of fillings


Lamb casserole

Chicken salad

Vegetable lasagne

Fish and chips




Analysis: ‘A nutritionally rich diet is vital to help our bodies heal’

By Chris Mantle

Good quality and nutritious food is of crucial importance in hospitals but historically has been side-lined or ignored.

It makes little sense that at a time of greatest need, the types of food on offer can also be of the worst quality, and with little or no choice for healthier options.

It is very important to have the most nutritious and balanced food possible in hospitals. It is a time for our bodies to heal and repair after an accident, illness or surgery. It is vital to get a nutritionally rich diet to help the body do this.

However, at a time when we need it most the nutrition is often lacking from food supplied, hindering and lengthening recovery and increasing the risk of hospital acquired infections such as MRSA.

When bed-space is limited and infection risk high, surely it’s in everyone’s best interests to make sure hospital stays are as short as

possible? It doesn’t seem to make sense that in most hospitals soft drinks and chocolate bar vending machines are common and the only shops available sell more of the same, with

cafeterias not doing much better.

Some hospitals appear to promote the same obesogenic environment as the high street, making healthier choices very difficult. However, the Scottish Government set minimum standards in 2005 – which are currently being worked towards – and Edinburgh Community Food works together with NHS Lothian to provide highly popular fruit and veg stalls at three major Edinburgh hospitals.

Many people – especially older people – are at risk of malnutrition during a hospital stay and others may arrive already showing signs of malnutrition, which then only gets worse. There are issues around feeding some people. Many meals are returned untouched as some patients are unable to feed themselves and there are insufficient staff members to ensure everyone is fed.

In fact, malnutrition currently costs the NHS far more than does the obesity epidemic (although obesity costs are set to spiral in the near future). So while thinking about obesity we must not

forget that malnutrition – the other side of the coin – is a really serious issue too.

• Chris Mantle is food and health development worker at Edinburgh Community Food

Patient used fingers to eat

THE Royal Infirmary came in for criticism last year in a major report from watchdog Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

Inspectors had to intervene to ensure elderly patients were given the appropriate help to eat.

Staff were oblivious to one patient losing 10kg in seven days, while another was left to eat with his fingers after cutlery was places out of reach.

NHS Lothian took action to remedy the situation, including a trial of the widespread use of volunteers to help patients eat.

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and her party’s food spokesperson, said quality of food in the public sector had been ignored “for too long”. She said: “Whether it’s poor hospital food, horsemeat in our schools or our growing obesity and diabetes crises, it seems the Government and public authorities need to shape up. It is appalling that so often in our society private profit determines what the public sector purchases. Nutritional balance and enjoyment must be paramount in the delivery of hospital food and it’s a false economy to try muddling through with a lack of proper kitchens, staff and fresh ingredients.”