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Is a “Masterchef-style”’ competition the answer to poor nutrition in hospitals?

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26 May, 2014

How many of us watched Jamie Oliver taking on school lunches and wished he’d do the same for hospitals?

We all know the important role nutrition plays in recovery, and if meals look or taste unappetising, of course our patients are going to either eat less or resort to other sources to satisfy their hunger. This could result in a slower recovery and more time in hospital. It’s not rocket science.

When I worked on an acute mental health ward, it was so frustrating to see patients ordering take aways every evening because they (often understandably, in my opinion) couldn’t stomach the food we were serving them. I’m sure I’m not the only nurse to look at the food trolley and wonder where the hospital managers’ priorities lie.

With budgets being cut, catering teams are having to do more with less, but opting for cheaper meals can often mean losing out on nutrition.

So is it possible to make a nutritious, appetising meal that suits the NHS budget?

NHS Scotland is on a mission to find out. Some of the pictures on this BBC News story are enough to turn your stomach, and it’s difficult to imagine eating these meals when you’re well, let alone when you’re already feeling rotten.

The NHS Good Food Challenge 2014 challenges chefs and catering teams to provide locally sourced meals for 100 people that meet nutritional guidelines. The winning menu is then going to be rolled out across the whole of NHS Scotland.

Granted, many hospitals provide meals for more than 10 times that many people on a daily basis, so the logistics of this mammoth task are questionable. But at least positive steps are being taken to provide consistent standards, something that can only benefit patients. Let’s hope this initiative finds more lasting success than similar ones in the past. [changed this because the NHS has had numerous initiatives before that were then quietly dropped]

What do you think of this “Masterchef-style” competition?

Readers' comments (7)

  • My trust serves reasonable food. I'd eat it myself. The menu consists of the sort of stuff most of us would eat at home (sandwiches, jacket potatoes, pasta bakes etc), and sort of reminds me of school dinners. My issue is with the tiny portions being served up, which couldn't be enough to meet the nutritional needs of a well person, let alone one ill and recovering.

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  • I've eaten hospital food and enjoyed it. I think quite often the problem is the quantity that the patient actually eats. I know that sometimes a plate of food gets left on the patients table but the table is left out of reach of the patient. Then the meal gets taken away uneaten.
    This problem of staff shortages needs to be addressed before embarking on fancy programmes to get the patients to eat. A large number of hospital patients are elderly and are quite happy with traditional food.

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  • staffing is the first priority and checking that patients are able to eat their meal and how much they are eating and drinking. many of the elderly are quite conservative in their tastes and may prefer traditional foods but they need variety, choice, good presentation and in the quantities they wish for. there is nothing more putting off, especially if patients are unwell or recovering, than unpalatable looking food dumped on a plate and without any consideration of the quantity they need. a choice of hot and cold drinks is also important.

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  • are we going to re-introduce dining tables and dayrooms too so that patients if they wish can either eat their meals with a bit of company or get away from the smells, sights and noise of the ward into the dayroom to eat.
    what improvements are being considered for staff food and drinks

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  • Some colleagues and I tried to re introduce the day room so that they could mobilise and eat their meals in a more appropriate environment. The biggest challenge was froom the patients themselves, they didnt want to walk anywhere, and didnt like sitting in the dayroom as there was no TV. We have created a bedside area that they dont want to leave. They are happy to stay there, eat, use the toilet and wash, as they can watch the TV that costs a fortune, and we are unable to put a free to view TV in the dayroom as this goes against the contract for the bedside ones.

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  • I would say our meals aren't ideal but they are pretty good for hospital food. I find the problems are with adequate staffing to ensure patients are given the correct support and help to eat and drink.
    I have witnessed uneaten meals taken away from patients with no alternative offered. When the patient was asked they admited they would have had a bowl of soup but didn't want to cause any more work for the busy nursing staff. Often these uneaten meals go unchecked by nursing staff as it is not reported back that a patient has not eaten their meal, this also happens with drinks.
    We need to ensure this is everyone's responsibilty from the nursing staff to the cleaners that clear the plates away and maybe don't think that 1 uneaten meal is important. Is more training needed across all levels? I think so.

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  • My trust has a very reasonable extensive and tasty menu in the restaurant for staff and visitors and a totally disgusting limited menu for inpatients. This is often thrown away after being left untouched by patients. Ward staff are not allowed to let relatives bring in food to keep cool or heat up so it is eat what is provided or starve.
    Why do two different types of menu ? It is nonsense. Who wants to eat greasy mince, sloppy potato mash and creamed rice day after day.
    The main objective is ti make money and provide patients meals for 30p a day out of the profit.

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