A Scrummy Ending?

Apologies for the delay to the conclusion to my Southampton Hospital food saga; Ironically another Hospital stay prevented me from posting – but did give me some more material (Stay tuned for the Northwick Park review)

Last time I wrote, I explained how going down to the staff and guest canteen, to pick up my food from the kitchen (and eat my food in a semi dining experience) had drastically improved Dinner time meals.

I can now confirm, until the last two days in hospital, the food on the ward did not improve. What made those last two days different? For the first time I managed to arrange for the Dietician, Ward Hostess and Kitchen staff to be in the same place at the same time; Presented with exactly the same complaints I’d been spouting for nearly 3 weeks within a couple of minutes they had worked out the issue was:

Although the food was cooked fresh, and brought up in one swift move from the kitchen to me. There could be times where it sat waiting in the kitchen to be picked up for 15, 30 even  60 minutes.

As I’m sure you can appreciate they were very quickly able to come up for a solution to this. And from this I got my first decent (If not particularly exciting meal) on the ward:

2013-01-22 12.39.07I’ll be honest, I can’t remember what exactly this is. Lamb I think. But it was Hot, tasted ok and the Mash was buttery. Can’t ask for much more on a hospital ward.

I said to the staff, it was great we had resolved this issue. But that it would be nice we didn’t need to have this fight again (and again and again like the last time, and the time before that) So I seeked an email which confirmed plans to bring all Intestinal Failure Diet meals straight up after being served, with no time sat in the food warmer trolley.

Upon my return, I asked the dietician whether things had remained at their improved rate. However she said standards had quickly slipped after leaving, that said when I asked her for a statement on this she said:

“Your problems with the IFD while an inpatient were resolved before discharge using the catering complaints procedure and I do not believe there were any ongoing issues arising from this. If any issues from catering arise they would be dealt with in the same way.”

So perhaps she was misguided, misinformed or unable to share within the restrictions of her job. Either way its irrelevant. She worked really hard to change the food and improve it whilst I was there, and together we were successful. And if we can win once; We can win again.

I hope you never have to experience it, but if you do end up in hospital;

Make sure your Food is DECENT!

Can I cook More with Less?

Following on from my three week Hospital food blog which detailed some of the not so lovely meals delivered to me (Often cold) on my specially created Intestinal Failure Diet … I decided to cook my own meal in a kitchen at least 8 times smaller than the diet kitchen at Southampton General Hospital. Lets see how well I get on…
Submit your own Hospital Food Experiences too here!

Hot Stuff, Baby Tonight

So we’re nearly at the end of my 3 week stay in hosptial. And its fair to say the food has drastically improved – But only when I go to the Kitchen to pick it up myself. And its not been without problems.

At one point I was served a Spaghetti Bolognaise that taste just fine, but the Spaghetti was in a slab. So I went back to the kitchen and asked the chef if he could do me some more. He more than obliged infact, he invited me into the kitchen to discuss my dietry needs. I even taught him the trick of rinsing pasta and rice after cooking to remove the bad sticky starch – A Revelation to him (Which I thought was a given on the back of all of all Pasta & Rice backs, but apperently not).

Interestingly the ‘diet’ kitchen wasnt massively large but catered for 100 patients. So its clear the diet chef was a busy bee, but the fact he had time to re-make food when it wasn’t good enough shows there is no reason to rush.

But Lunch time still hasn’t improved. Literally On the ward the food is awful, when I pick it up from the kitchen and come face to face with the chef the food is more than average at times enjoyable would you believe it. The choice from the staff canteen which changes everyday is refreshing too.

Before I “leave” I’ll let you know what arrangements I get put in place so other patients can ‘potentially’ benefit and explore how easy it is to cook a decent meal with less equipment than the industrial ‘diet’ kitchen. Keep an eye on www.feedmesomethingdecent.co.uk! And if you have an experience: Submit it!

Pick Up Time

Literally. Who’d have thought it would take me to walking into the kitchen to get my food, in hospital, to get a substantial HOT meal. Well Pictures in this case say more than words.

It dumbfounds me how the food was not only hot, but looks appealing, nutritious and well presented.

I was only able to pick food up in the evening, and every night it was of good quality. And yet, at lunch on the ward I received the same standard as before, but When I picked up the food and came face to face with the chef. It was fine. What is it about that journey that changes the food I was presented with? Some sort of Time Warp…


But that’s not quite the end of the story. I have about a week left and there are a few more revelations to come. Check back after the weekend to see if I get the ever forgiving ‘Decent’ meal on the ward.

And then there was the Bonus Mash Potato

So its just over a week and a half in a stuffy, uncomfortable hospital ward. But thankfully, I’m feeling well enough to walk about and escape the ward. Unfortunately this minor relief doesn’t quite make the food situation any better. I’ve made the same complaint about the food, quite angrily nearly every day for the last week and a half, but I’ve been particularly persistent the last three days. Then I receive this:

2013-01-19 13.04.172013-01-19 13.02.26Yum, literally last nights left over pasta (I recognize from seeing in the staff canteen the previous night) & spaghetti hoops with what I can only presume was bonus mash potato.


So I reach my limit. There simply MUST be something they can do, or offer me thats better than this? No they keep saying. This is it. There are only so many times you can say the same thing to the dietician and ward staff.

But I know there are other options. On my casual strolls around Southampton General I find the Spice of Life staff and visitor canteen. Its owned by the same company, medirest, and yes they serve steamplicity food. However, they also serve food hot. And the canteen, shares their kitchen space with the ‘Diet Bay’ where my IFD[foot]Intestinal Failure Diet[/foot] menu is cooked.

So far the defence for my food being cold is, its brought up straight away. We can’t bring it up any faster – thats why its cold. (As if this is ok?) So I decide to take the initiative and as the old saying goes. If the Hot Potato won’t come to Jamie, Jamie will go to the Hot Potato. I arrange to go and pick my meals up from the kitchen – and remove the transport element. If they cant get hot food to me, i’ll just go pick up the hot food.

See just how drastically this improves my food when I pick up my first evening meal directly from the chefs hands tomorrow.

At least there is the View

The Food may be rubbish, but today there is no staff because of the snow... Wait whats my point? Oh Yea even the Boiler building looks pretty in the snow
The Food may be rubbish, but today there is no staff because of the snow… Wait whats my point? Oh Yea even the Boiler building looks pretty in the snow

This Blog is re-creating my 3 Week stay in Hospital in Janurary when this picture was taken. I was an in patient at the Southampton General, part of the University Southampton Trust.

Rest Unassured? Medirest

With budgets up and down the country being tightened and squeezed it was inevitable that the NHS would have to take on some of the burden. Unfortunately the NHS can’t simply pick the basics custard creams at the superstore instead of the more expensive ‘Taste the Difference’  Heart Surgery. It can however apply this concept to the food it buys in. But in a space where you are supposed to be given the best shot at recovery from serious illness is removing quality from meals that have a bad reputation already the right place to make the cuts?

In 2011/12 the average money spent on patients meals per day rose by 2% to £8.58 but over the last 4 years since 2008/09 has risen by 27% when the average was just £6.71 for all the food and drink an in patient receives during a single day.

This blog has been focused on Southampton General’s catering so far. This trust (Southampton University Hospital) increased its average spending on patient meals per fay from £7.69 in 08/09 to £11.11 11/12, both above the average for that year [foot] Full data sheets available from the Department of Health website [/foot] . However these figures are somewhat deceiving as they push all the different diets into one big mesh. Southampton has a nationally renowned Nutrition team and has for many years been able to give Nutritional support to complex cases that other hospitals are simply not able to offer. However the dieticians at the hospital are quite happy to tell patients how unhappy they are with the catering situation there.

Medirest, which provide all the catering on site – including the retail franchises (Including Burger King, Costa Coffee and To Jours) – have served their Steamplicity menu to patients on a standard diet since December 2011. The menu is designed to offer choice, it has 28 different options available every day. They are picked by the patient every morning for that days Lunch and Dinner. However what most don’t realise is all Steamplicity meals are prepared off site and brought up to the ward to be cooked by a series of Microwaves in the ward ‘Kitchen’ [foot]Kitchen By name only, Microwaves, Hot water tap and a Dishwasher are all that fill the room[/foot]. One of the key benefits that this menu offers Hospitals is to ‘Save you Money’. This has clearly been an appetising prospect with 50 trusts now signed up to the service.

A large part of the money saved is the decrease in wastage a Steamplicity menu offers. Southampton General has increased its ‘untouched’ meal wastage from 7.8% to 2.4% in the years between 2008 to 2012. However its very difficult to completely account for this and having stayed in a Steamplicity hospital and seen hundreds of meals served, if they could account for the “barely” or part touched meals the percentage would be massively higher. The Steamplicity menu promises so much, but the beautifully presented PR pictures on the menu and website are not close to what is actually served to patients – no wonder after they are prepared elsewhere, transported in lorries and taken up to the wards on bumpy carts. Here is the Poached Salmon I was served, with freshly cooked carbs for my IFD [foot] Intestinal Failure Diet, See other posts for explanation on why I need this particular diet [/foot]

2013-01-20 13.12.26 Screen shot 2013-04-13 at 7.57.47 PM

Displayed with an excerpt from the pictorial menu so you can see the difference in promise and delivery. And if you want to see how, indeed, if it differs at Barnet hospital check out Penelope’s Pantry: Operation Hospital Food

Southampton was recently named as one of the 17 hospitals in the country that is dangerously understaffed. Having been in and out for the best part of three years, its fair to say this is true with a noticeable change in staff number in just the time I’ve been an inpatient. This makes it very difficult for both the staff and patients to question their food quality, it’s hardly high on the agenda when you have to wait so long for actual medical attention. Some people might argue that this is even more reason to squeeze the food budget, in order for it to deliver money for staff. Indeed this is exactly what Medirest’s Steamplicity promises. They say “significant annualized labour savings have been achieved, ranging up to £345,000 pa” at Trusts that use Steamplicity, but that money hasn’t been fed back into staff numbers, and as the blog as shown so far it hasn’t improved the specialized diets or delivered what it promises on the ‘A La Carte’ hospital food menu.

Improvement or Development?

So we’re established, the food is pretty lame. The choice isn’t extensive. And I’ve rather exhausted the options I do have.

When the dietician and the person in charge of the ‘Diet Kitchen’ – that makes me food ‘fresh’ so the carbs aren’t re-heated – come to see me they ask, Well what more variety can we give you? I reel off many items that the first dietician gave me on my last discharge. Pork, Noodles, Chinese Sauces, Pasta, Cream based sauces, Salmon, Easy to digest Veg (Like courgettes). From this; we agree I can order ‘Pasta Bakes’ with Chicken and Broccoli. The rest was against ‘Trust Policy’ to do. Anyway, here is two versions of the pasta bake I received at lunch and then over the weekend:

2013-01-10 13.19.12 2013-01-18 13.16.16

Neither Quite a Bake, nor quite consistent. Neither were particularly hot either.

As for the fact I’m yet to have a hot meal, I’m promised my Sweet and Sour Chicken I will receive that night will be hot and brought up straight away. A special effort is promised. I am elated, Hot food? Yum! But I explain, this is only a victory if it’s not a special effort but is made standard practice. Whats the chance that it will continue?

But here is to victory number one, a Sweet (And Piping Hot) Victory. Sour to ensue on Monday. As the NHS Shuts down for the weekend, so will we. Where are the Weekend Staff?

2013-01-10 17.39.30


The most important meal of the day.

I was woke up every day, at 8am by the lights being switched on and offered:

White Or Brown Bread
Rice Krispies, Cornflakes or Wheatabix
And if there was any left from dinner last night A Yogurt or piece of fruit.

I’m supposed to be fueling myself with as many calories as possible and avoiding fibre which will rush through my bad tum. None of this screams out to fit the bill.

I wont bore you with more posts about my breakfast. But after 3 weeks of peanut butter sandwiches at 8am in the morning as my only sustenance until lunch I can tell you – I was getting a bit nutty.

I Got Bored Quick

Even if it was the menu from my Favorite restaurant having to pick from the same 10 meals for two meals a day is going to get quite boring quite quick. Especially delivered to you in this state:

Lets start with the Curry. Everyone out there knows that acidic tomato based meals (Think baked beans for the extreme of this) cause more gasses and bloating than others. So for someone with a tummy whose intestine has failed enough to put them on the Intestinal Failure diet, could do with avoiding any extra pain and uncomfort than what they suffer with anyway. So to order a Cream based Curry and be confronted with tomatoes causes more than a bit of heart burn. With the rest of the menu being things like Bolognaise & Shepard’s Pie, having a creamy curry should be some rest bite to the nasty acid. Alas.

The Sausage & Mash? Not very exciting. True. But as my Dietician said how do you make this look exciting and appetising? Its not easy. False.

Tesco Suasage and Mash(Credit to Tesco Real Foods)

This meal is exactly the same, Two Sausages and Mash. But the quality and appetizing appeal of it is massively different. Admittedly I hadn’t added my mug of gravy to the meal before I took the picture – but I’m sure you can agree why I didn’t jump straight it. The irony of the sausages I was provided was the poor quality of them too; My dietician was more than specific and explicit if you must eat processed meats like Sausages, make sure they are good quality, high in percentage of meat. The rusk and cereal in cheap sausages may cause you bloating. I can assure you – those sausages weren’t even of Little Chef breakfast style quality.

Which brings me to my final meal, a plate of cold soggy (In a overtly plain white sauce) carbs. Pasta is usually a big safe meal for me, carbohydrates are easy for any tummy to break down. However this is only true when they are freshly cooked. When the starch in Carbohydrates is cooked, it changes making it easy to digest, but it then changes again when it cools and becomes difficult for any tummy to digest. This is the predominant reason for me being on the IFD menu, because I really struggle with re-heated and cold carbs. The normal menu Medirest provides people at Southampton has around 40 meal options, but all are created off site, frozen and nuked on the ward for consumption. All of my carbs in particular needed to be freshly cooked and delivered to me hot in order for me to be able to eat and not have to deal with painful trapped wind for the following hours. I’ve now been in four days, and I’m yet to be served a meal that is freshly hot or hasn’t been re-heated.

The Dietician will be back tomorrow and I’ve kicked off to the ward staff who have arranged for someone from the kitchen to come see me too. Lets see if they can do anything to get me something hot?

And for those of you wondering why not just order a Sandwich? Check back at breakfast…