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.

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.

Dog Food Pie

Food. Sustenance. Energy. Probably the most important elements driving any potential recovery you can make. So being fed something you can eat that fits the strict diet set by the powers that be; Hospital should be the one place the gets this spot on, right?

Wrong – Hospital food is and always has been notouriously awful. Countless commitees, celebrity chefs and goverenment ministers have tried to implement measures to fix it. To No Avail. At this point I present you with Exhibit A:

2013-01-05 18.21.07

Its supposed to be a Shepards Pie, but the essentially ‘jellied’ like meat reminds me more of what a Dog Food Pie would look like. This is by no means the worst thing i’ve been served whilst trying to recover in hospital; But this is the meal that took my anger levels to a point enough of wanting to something about it. Having complained before and seeing little improvement, rather than relying on the Kitchen team to take pictures and share it with the Hospital heads of catering – I decided to take a picture of every meal I was served.

To be fair this picture doesn’t do the meal justice. It was also cold, the mash potatoes were soggy, and see those massive clumps of red? Those are barely cooked tomatoes. I can assure you, for someone on a Intestinal Failure Menu, from which this was ordered from, big – high residue – acidic – cheap tomatoes are not only un-enjoyable at the point of eating. But for hours and hours after.

I was in Hospital for a mere 3 weeks. And over the next 3 weeks I’ll be sharing more and more of the delicacies delivered to my hospital bedside, what protests I made and whether I ever did, get them to Feed Me Something Decent!

Follow the updates on Twitter & Instagram (Both are @DoctorFeedMe) and submit your own Hospital food stories and pictures here

The History

Southampton Hospital

In and out of Hospital for nearly 3 years and had some pretty serious surgery over the time. Born with a 1 in a million anomaly that allowed my bowel to twist leading to much of it being taken away and a few days being lost to operations and general anesthetics.

With 7 major operations, somewhere under 30 minor ops, and enough radiation from scans to cook a ready meal (or two) under my belt before the age of 21, its been a bit rough. The worst bit? Not eating for a year and a half! I relied on intravenous[foot]Intravenous therapy or IV therapy is the infusion of liquid substances directly into a vein. The word intravenous simply means “within a vein“. – Wikipedia[/foot] parenteral nutrition [foot] Parenteral nutrition (PN) is feeding a person intravenously, bypassing the usual process of eating and digestion. The person receives nutritional formulae that contain nutrients such as glucose, amino acids, lipids and added vitamins and dietary minerals. It is called total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or total nutrient admixture (TNA) when no significant nutrition is obtained by other routes – Wikipedia [/foot] for the best part of a year and a half and was not able to absorb food or drink. During that time the only way to get in touch with food, was to cook: I did this for my family every meal time, that I had the energy to do so, so that when I could eat again I could eat well.

Southampton HospitalAs I’m sure you’re already aware, Hospital food is more Michelin wheels than stars in style, and that’s Michelin wheels that have a massive puncture. Now its not all bad – the first meal I had, Chicken with white rice and white sauce tasted just fine. But, anything is going to taste good after nothing for a year and a half. The problems I’ll refer to in this blog centre largely around my most recent hospital stay at Southampton General University Hospital – A hospital I was sent to (away from my home town) for its specialist Nutrition team and capabilities. And let us be clear, the Doctors and my team looking after me have been Fab! Its the food I have the BEEF with – If you’ll pardon the pun.

My most recent stay I was on the Intestinal Failure Diet, created especially for people like me, whose intestines have failed. And for the record, not just a little bit, you could say #EpicFails to coin a twitter term. Hopefully this blog will encourage the ongoing, but largely under the radar, discourse on how poor hospital food is to come into the LIME light. If you have experiences similar or at the completely the other end of the spectrum, why not share them? – Submit pictures and articles of your experiences anytime below. We’re not just looking for food at Southampton either, anywhere in the NHS is appropriate – Southampton is not the only place with problems with their meals.
Submit your experiences to be published on the blog:

Final plans for AOM2013 blog project

Here are my final plans for my blog project.

I’m going to post between 5 and 7 article style posts posts over 3 weeks that will include a mix of:

  • How the food is awful
    • How and if it improves
    • What steps I took
  • Context:
    • Horse Meat
    • NHS Budget Cuts
    • Happieness/Wellbeing
    • Other Health Scares

Then a series of shorter posts and galleries as round ups:

  • Instagram/Photo Galleries
  • Cooking Video
  • Revelations: Like teaching them how to cook pasta well.

I am going set up a Instagram profile and install a widget on the blog to display pictures as they go live. I’ve also installed a Submit tool so people can send in their own experiences and pictures of bad hospital food.

The blog is live (But currently empty) on www.feedmesomethingdecent.co.uk I built it using the wordpress.org content management system.

I plan to start releasing context next week. I am going to use the Publicise tool (in the Jetpack plugin) to bounce content out to a Twitter & Facebook account too.