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‘Stop the Slop’: £1.3m ready meals row at Salford Royal

Malnutrition and poor food care are inevitable at Salford’s flagship hospital if bosses go ahead with plans to cut back on fresh food prepared on site, says a hospital union.

Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey will now join the fight against outsourcing food for patients by speaking at a public meeting in Salford on 7 April.

Plans to bring in factory-made reheatable food – known as ‘cook-chill’ – at Salford Royal could save the Foundation Trust £1.3 million, say UNISON.

The hospital told SalfordOnline.com it urgently needs to refurbish its kitchens.

The cost of this if it continues to cook its own food on site would be £2.8 million.

But with cook-chill, the figure would only be £1.5 million.

The Department of Health’s own 2014 Food Standards Panel report found all NHS hospitals should be moving towards providing better quality food and drink.

It says: “Malnourished patients in hospital stay longer and are more likely to develop complications or infections. At home, they visit their GPs more often…The NHS owes it to its patients to help them recover quickly…and to make their hospital stay as pleasant as possible. Delicious, nutritious and wholesome food is an important weapon in the fight against mediocre care, but it is more than just that. The importance of food extends to its role in creating a healthier workforce, a more efficient use of money and a stronger economy.”

A petition of 1,000+ signatures online gives a good indication of how popular Salford’s hospital food already is.

“Salford already provides good value for money,” said Katherine Button of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food.

Compared to Bolton, Salford is nearly 50p per patient per day cheaper and nearly £2 per patient per day cheaper than Leigh Infirmary.

Cook-chill products are prepared and cooked through in factory kitchens off site, then rapidly chilled and stored at controlled temperatures for up to five days.

Pre-cooked meals are reheated for customers, or in this case, patients, when they are delivered to on-site kitchens.

The system is common to care homes and meals-on-wheels providers.

But Salford Royal – rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission – already gets good reviews for its food.

On the NHS Choices website patient and family reviews consistently rate the hospital’s food as ‘good’ or better.

In a statement the hospital said: “Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust has taken the decision following a full board review to move to a bulk regeneration catering option.

“This will mean having freshly produced food delivered to site for cooking in ovens in our kitchen.

“Our primary focus is not to save money but to re-invest back in to a new facility. We will work with patients to determine our future supplier.

All food provided to NHS patients, regardless of originator, is produced to British Dietetic Association Standards as a minimum and so the meals patients receive will have the same or greater nutritional value.”

44 people currently work in Salford Royal’s kitchens.

Nearly half of those posts will be removed if the hospital decides to go down the cook-chill route.

But Salford Royal say staff will be redeployed rather than let go.

A spokeswoman for the hosptial said: “25 posts will remain in the catering department and all other staff will move to other areas of our Hotel Services department. There will be no redundancies.

But campaigners query whether skilled jobs for chefs will be lost if catering professionals only need to re-heat already cooked food.

UNISON say they were shocked not to be consulted by the hospital.

“There’s been no consultation,” said Wendy Allison.

“The first we heard of this was at the end of January when the expressions of interest went out.

“We asked for a breakdown of the figures and they refused. At the end of the day it’s public money and we can see no reason why the figures should be withheld.

“Cook-chill comes with a poor reputation. It was trialled at Tameside General Hospital and abandoned after six months because of complaints about the quality of the food, with patients refusing to eat.”

Pictures of hospital slop – oily, congealed food, burned baked potatoes and meals that appear unfit for human consumption – are posted regularly on the Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s website.

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Katherine Button continued: “The food served at hospitals is a vital part of protecting people at their most vulnerable, so we ask everyone concerned by plans to shut the Royal’s kitchen to sign the petition and to show their support using the hashtag #keeptheroyalcooking.”

And all hospitals in England are now ranked on how much choice is available, their cost, and whether foods are approved by a dietician.

Salford Royal said it would work with patients to determine the supplier: “Patients, public governors and a number of staff groups, including dietitians, will be involved in the tender evaluation panel and larger numbers of these groups will be included in the food tasting sessions that form part of our evaluation process.”

A final decision is expected to be made in early June 2016.

“Hospitals can be boring and depressing places for patients and they look forward to a good meal, it can really lift the spirits, says Wendy.

“The thing is, once you bring in cook-chill, it’s very difficult to go back. You can’t control the ingredients or the levels of salt and fat in the food.

“Even the gravies and sauces are made from scratch at the moment.

“Salford is a centre for neuroscience in Greater Manchester. Patients come in from all over the region so this will affect people all over the north west and not just in Salford.”

“We know that the public are very concerned that the Trust is prioritising short-term financial savings over long-term value for money and the well-being of patients.

If Sir David [Dalton – Salford Royal Chief Executive] truly wants Salford to be a flagship hospital he needs to keep his eye on the basics and make sure patients are well-fed with good quality, fresh food.”

The public meeting takes place at 6pm on Thursday 7 April at Buile Hill Park Hall, Eccles Old Road, Salford M6 8GL.

Main image: Salford Royal hospital/composite/examples of poor quality hospital food

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Tom is SalfordOnline.com's News Editor and community co-ordinator.