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We need to talk about hospital food. Chefs’ pov


Et Voila!!

Hospital catering pretty much always gets a bad rep. Slimy soups, soggy bread, fishy everything; the prognosis is normally a swift death.

But can the huge industry catering for hospital patients and workers produce anything other than murder? And what are the issues that hospital chefs – burrowed deep underground (probably near the morgue) – are up against?

Unlike your average restaurant where the healthiness of the food is not generally taken into consideration, hospitals are supposed to be completely the opposite. However, last week frozen meat was found in a freezer at Uist and Barra Hospital in the Outer Hebridies with no indication of how long it had been there.

The hospital was handed an “improvement required” rating after an inspection. Among breaches found by the inspector were a broken meat fridge, a persistent sewage smell in the washing-up area and outdated allergen information.

A spokesman for the hospital said all items were now checked by a second member of staff for labelling before being frozen, the fridge had been fixed and allergen labelling updated.

Malnutrition costs the health service £1.4bn a year and obesity £1.1bn so it’s important to get food right.

This wasn’t always the case. Back when no one really gave a flying bedpan, hospitals would serve up classic British stodge, like bangers and mash or pie and chips.

Nowadays, most hospitals have a nutrition and hydration committee that looks at the nutritional needs of patients and devise a menu accordingly.

This is great news – OBVIOUSLY food is important to health and people overcoming illnesses- but it does place certain restrictions on the chefs in terms of flavour and taste.

Domini Kemp who wrote a book about which food is best for fighting and beating cancer said: “Although we view hospital food as pretty awful, I have sympathy for hospital caterers.
“The big fear is food poisoning – and so they tend to cook the bejaysus out of everything to ensure minimal risk. It’s a flawed system but kitchen staff are not where the blame lies.”

Uh huh. Finally some recognition that it’s not the chefs’ fault.

Also; thought we could talk about hospitals without mentioning the word budget – WRONG, the money going into the kitchen is pitiful and so therefore it must be entirely their own fault.

Dr Colin Sage, of University College Cork (UCC) who has carried out food research in hospitals said: “Hospital food is bad, we all know that, but I don’t think it’s a question of restaurant chefs — however well intentioned — showing hospital kitchens how to do it better. It’s a damn sight more complicated than that. I’m quite sympathetic to catering managers who have to work with very restrictive budgets.
“Hospital food is driven by tenders and the procurement process, which sources food based on the lowest price. Catering managers are challenged by poor-quality ingredients. If more procurement were done on a local level, it would help.”

To put it politely, you can’t polish a turd and with such little funding being put into food, and hospitals in general for that matter; its little surprise the food isn’t great.

And what about careers with the NHS as a chef or cooking assistant and how does this affect the food? Are people queuing up outside the hospital kitchen doors to eagerly bring their latest French inspired menus to the work space?

Of course not- the truth is career prospects for a chef or kitchen worker in the NHS is not great.

Under the Agenda for Change pay rates 2016 (whatever that means) an assistant/catering support worker would start at band 1 which is around £15,000.

Moving your way up band 2 as an actual chef is between £16-£18k and band 3 for a team leader position is between £16-20k.

Hmmmm. Leaves a sour taste doesn’t it?

To sum up there are a lot of things that hold back both the food and the chefs who work in the NHS, but equally it is important to remember who is causing these setbacks (clue: their house number is number 10) and not to point the finger at individuals themselves.



Category: BRITISH, Features