With hospital food hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons again this year, why is it so challenging to serve fresh, nutritious and tasty food to patients? It’s not difficult at all, says Hazel Read, FM support services manager, for Solent NHS Trust.

According to the Campaign for Better Hospital Food:
• 400,000 uneaten hospital meals are thrown in the bin every day in the UK
• 67% of hospital staff are unhappy to eat the food they serve to patients

Earlier this year, the news was once again filled with reports and images of unsatisfactory meals served in the UK’s hospitals – with a renewed plea for improvements to be made. But providing healthy and appealing meals to patients is achievable by all, claims Hazel Read, a hospital caterer with over 38 years’ experience and customer of the Country Range Group. “It’s not rocket science,” she says. “There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of hard work. Unfortunately I think red tape gets in the way and it does come down to the budgetary restraints of the trust. Fortunately my trust is a keen advocate of providing a fresh, tasty meals for patients.”

Hazel works at Western Community Hospital in Southampton and takes her role incredibly seriously. “I feel as a catering manager that I have a responsibility to spend public money in the best possible way I can. Patients are at the centre of everything we do and I see food as the first point of getting better. It’s very important for anyone in my position to understand that. We work closely with medical clinicians and dieticians to design menus which will entice our patients.”

Everything is cooked from fresh using seasonal produce and the catering team always considers the best way to cook food to ensure it retains as many nutrients as possible. Continues Hazel: “We go deep into the journey between the kitchen and the patient – the ‘last nine yards’ as the HCA calls it is very important. It’s the difference between a patient looking at a meal and saying ‘I can’t eat it’ to ‘Wow! I’m so hungry!’”

Patients at Western Community Hospital – many of whom are elderly patients with mental health and rehabilitation issues – enjoy three freshly cooked meals a day with homemade porridge topping the breakfast menu. The three-week menu cycle caters for different ethnic background and medical needs, and patients order the day before. The team also provides meals for an on-site children’s nursery. Tea parties and themed events are a regular occurrence and, on Sundays, Hazel has introduced a fresh carvery so that family members can book a table and come and enjoy lunch or dinner with their loved ones rather than crowding round a hospital bed.

Hazel’s tips for success:
• You need to be inspired and have the passion to succeed
• You need skills to deliver excellence – it’s easy to achieve if you have people with the skills to make it happen
• Longevity and experience – a happy team is one which stays together and achieves more