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In my opinion: NHS priority should be better health care not menus

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 02, 2014

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Another week and another ill thought out edict from health Minister Jeremy Hunt. I do wonder who is advising him.

The saga of the quality, or lack of it rather, of what passes for food in our hospitals has reared its ugly head, again. It was almost exactly a year ago that the topic was last aired. At the time my comments provoked a response from patients in defence of Yeovil and Treliske hospitals.

My experience at both establishments was extremely poor.

I feel that the problem is one of consistency and expectation. As individuals we all have different needs and the manifestation of these is likely to be more enhanced when we feel unwell. There can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach, where hospitals are under continuing threat of financial ruin and the nature of their operation is a constantly moving feast.

It is encouraging to think that the quality of the hospital food is considered to be high on the list of priorities, but we have been there before. In 1999 we had Prue Leith, Jamie Oliver in 2011, and as recently as last year Heston was calling for an end to poor hospital food.

I fear it is unlikely to happen any time soon. In some cases there has been a real effort to improve the quality of what is offered but overall, to keep costs down, short cuts are still being taken. There remains a surprising amount of pre-prepared items used, of the type found in discount stores, which often contain preservatives and other chemicals.

As the Minister calls for fish twice a week, I couldn’t help but think of those people who do not like fish, and for the price available, what fish will hospitals provide? I fear it may well be the bread-crumbed, fried offerings, previously frozen, as served up in some cut-price pub chains. Hardly a healthy alternative.

Tap water is also to be made available. I only hope patients are not subjected to the lime-scale laden water in this area.

Personal menu plans are to take priority too, which will pose a challenge to hard-pressed nursing staff. I never know from one day to the next what I might be in the mood to eat, or when; a situation exacerbated when I feel poorly and where a well-known brand of tomato soup, or a boiled egg, will do the trick.

The health and safety brigade will have us believe that our visiting friends and relatives pose too much of a danger if permitted to bring in more than the odd grape to quench the pangs of hunger but in many other countries family are encouraged to play an active part in the recovery of their loved ones.

One person’s definition of healthy food that appeals to a waning appetite is not necessarily the same for all of us. There can be no common prescription for a nutritious meal without costly administration, which could be better spent on other health care aspects. As with most things, it is a little of what you fancy that does you the most good.

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