Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Operation Hospital Food: My thoughts

This is a dish of steamed salmon and cabbage. I have no idea what the gunky white sauce was

No showtunes today. This is serious business. Our health. Your health. My health.
As regular readers will no my health has not been stable for the last nine or ten months. A dose of viral menigitis inflamed my occipital nerve and recurrent migraines has been the net result. Since Christmas Day I've had one, which is just starting to improve thanks to some heavy intervention in the form of nerve blockers. (I stay just starting to improve it's actually got a lot worse in the last 24 hours, but let's not go there). Since Christmas I've spent 6 nights as an inpatient in Barnet General, my local hospital. However, I have had epilepsy since the age of 11 and have spent multiple nights in hospitals owing to concussions, infections and seizures over the years.

Why is this of any interest to you, well you may ask. I have just watched the first episode of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin on BBC2. Mr Martin has tasked himself with revamping the food offered to inpatients at a hospital in Yorkshire. This naturally struck a chord with me following my recent stay in Barnet.

What has always surprised me about hospital food is how different it is from anything I recognise as healthy. My diet is heavily reliant on fruit and vegetables, with protein and carbs in what I hope are semsible measures.  I have always dismissed hospital food as having issues because it was mass catering, yet not so long ago at GirlGuiding UK's Centenary camp (so more or less in the middle of a field) I saw mass catering done amazingly well - casseroles, roast dinners, pasta dishes. Simple dishes, cooked well. And on budgets that didn't difer so much from the quoted £3.50 per head per day from the NHS.

Obviously a hospital is trying to cater to a huge cariety of restricted diets due to faith, health, and choice - but what I see within that, what I saw in Barnet General, is a reliance on convenience food - packets of biscuits, cuppa soups, ready brek to name but three examples where simple healthy eating Guidelines could easily see that replacing those with proper porridge, vegetable soup, and homemade flapjacks (to give one set of examples) would increase dietary fibre - I can say from personal experience that pretty much everyone is constipated in hospital - as well as bringing some old fashioned goodness into people's meals. Vegetable soups, would bring in vitamins, and raise people's chances of getting their 5 a day, flapjacks are a perfect vehicle for dried fruit, which would increase energy. Simple options like a proper milky drink (for those who can tolerate it) at bedtime, and more leafy green vegetables would reduce the need for such a reliance on calcium tablets, and as I've said increasing dietary fibre and fluids would stop seemingly every second patient requiring laxatives of one type or another. Surely the purchasing managers could work with clinicians to view a Return on Investment from altering patient meals - if people are well nourished whilst on a ward, their recovery will be quicker - problems such as dehydration, and malnourishment will present less frequently?

I wonder that the reliance on ready brek et al, isn't purely out of convenience, the hospital James Martin was at had a kitchen (albeit woefully equipped), yet I'm not sure if there is one on many NHS sites - especially those touted as the most modern. Interestingly all sites have a cafe, or restaurant and the funding model this programme is exploring looks at investing all profit from those establishments back into the budget for patient food. Something which I wholeheartedly agree with. However, if the hospital cafe and restaurant aren't willing to serve the food that is offered to patients on the menu for staff and guests, why should it be good enough for those who are most vulnerable?

I'm not saying I have all the answers - for instance I'm sure my pithy 'well why not substitute flapjacks for biscuits' would be met by a dietician raising the issue of sugar - and yes, on my side ward 3 out of the 6 women had diabetes type 1 or 2. And of course a lack of an actual kitchen would prevent food being made on site, which is, I suspect the reason for the reliance on menus such as the Steamplicity being used in Barnet. I may not be the person who can change things on a large scale, I suspect Mr Martin will be heralding that sea change, but please, if you have family or friends in hospital and you care about their recovery - take them in some fruit, some homemade soup in a flask, encourage them to increase their fluids. If like me, they just can't eat what's on offer, then salads, or sandiwches are fantastic alternatives.

The NHS has a huge amount on it's plate with the upcoming changes fromn Central Government, I expect patient nutrition is a long way down on their list of worries at the moment - however each time there is a patient survey they come up as huge issues. Perhaps these concerns have to be raised locally, with local purchasing managers and Chief Executives.

I may be one person, but I just think when you're weak, when you're poorly, at your most vulnerable, that's when what you eat has an important job to do, it needs to nourish you back to help whilst your body deals with what ails you. Surely people's recovery is speeded up by proper nutrition - surely then part of the function of a hospital is to speed that recovery?

I will continue to tweet Operation Hospital Food using this hashtag #ophospfood please feel welcome to join in the conversation, perhaps if enough of us do this, both local NHS Trusts and Central Government may start to sit up and take notice.


Jules said...

Great post Pen. I think it's mad that the canteen that serves staff sin't shared with the patient catering team. Surely everyone is entitled to the same food?

Penelope said...

It's ridiculous Jules, you could get baked potatoes, and much more of the sort of thing I would eat there. Sharing costs can't possibly be prohibitive can it? And as you say, why are patients such second class citizens they don't warrant decent food?

Eclinic said...

Medical Videos help to educate patients about various diseases and disorders. It helps individuals to be conscious about a health issue, even pertaining to daily activities. It serves as a positive source that compliments in-person doctor's consultation and provides the necessary healing,free from the usual office setting.


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