Could Prue Leith finally rescue patients from the horrors of hospital food?

Could Prue Leith finally rescue patients from the horrors of hospital food?

Prue Leith has been drafted in by the Prime Minister to help end the hospital food scandal

Prue Leith has been drafted in by the Prime Minister to help end the hospital food scandal.

The Bake Off judge will front a ‘root and branch’ review setting strict national standards following the deaths of six patients who had eaten NHS sandwiches and salads.

Boris Johnson last night vowed to ensure patients are served ‘nutritional, tasty and fresh meals’, eliminate junk food and increase in-house catering.

Some hospitals spend as little as £2 a day on feeding each patient and do not even have a kitchen – shipping in frozen meals produced up to 650 miles away.

Mr Johnson said last night: ‘Guaranteeing hospitals serve nutritional, tasty and fresh meals will not only aid patient recovery, but also fuel staff and visitors as they care for loved ones and the vulnerable. Our NHS has led the way since the day it was formed. This review will ensure it remains the standard-bearer for healthy choices.’

The shocking state of hospital food was thrown into the spotlight earlier this year when six patients died from listeria contracted after eating hospital sandwiches and salads.

The review will aim to drive up quality by examining how NHS Trusts can bring catering in-house, and how new systems could monitor food safety.

It aims to encourage the use of fresh, seasonal and local ingredients in the more than 140 million meals served to patients across the country each year. A report containing a series of recommendations is expected in January.

Health campaigners welcomed the announcement but warned ‘a celebrity face doesn’t cut it’ and that major investment was needed following years of failed attempts at reform.

The review will be chaired by Philip Shelley, former head of the Hospital Caterers Association. Miss Leith, 79, has been appointed as an adviser.

The Daily Mail posted photographs of unappetising meals sent in by readers

The chef and TV presenter said: ‘Millions of pounds are wasted in hospitals with food ending up in the bin, unpalatable food being the main complaint. I’m delighted that at long last Downing Street and the Department of Health have decided to do something about it.

‘A hospital meal should be a small highlight, a little pleasure and comfort, and it should help, not hinder, the patient’s recovery.’

Some patients have described their meals as ‘pigswill’ and ‘unfit for dogs’, according to the Campaign for Better Hospital Food.

Many new hospitals have been built without kitchens, meaning around half of the NHS’s hot food is bought in as ready meals.

Hospitals also rely on pre-packaged sandwiches and salads, but these are particularly susceptible to food poisoning and were responsible for the six deaths earlier this year. The source of the outbreak was identified as Staffordshire-based supplier Good Food Chain, and the company’s products were withdrawn from 43 NHS trusts on May 25.

Cases of listeria were reported in eight hospitals around the country, from Manchester to Sussex.

Daily Mail readers sent in photographs of food which they had been served in hospital

This patient received some vegetables spread out on the plate 

Victims are believed to include ex-nurse Beverley Sowah, 57, and retired chemist Enid Heap, 84.

The heartbroken family of 52-year-old businessman Ian Hitchcock, from Derbyshire, demanded to know: ‘How could an NHS sandwich kill him?’

The listeria scandal was followed by revelations that patients are eating hospital food cooked up to a year earlier in a factory. And earlier this week a snapshot survey by the Daily Mail – with readers sending in pictures of hospital meals – found many were failing to provide basic nutrition standards.

Another patient sent in this photograph of some grim looking sausages and a scoop of mash

The review is the latest in a line of Government promises to improve hospital food. Critics warned millions of pounds of investment was needed to back up any changes recommended.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Judith Jolly said: ‘Healthy eating campaigns have failed before due to a lack of support and investment from the Government. A celebrity face, quite frankly, simply doesn’t cut it.’

Patricia Marquis, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘You don’t need a celebrity chef to tell you hospital food needs an overhaul.

‘Our expectations for this review go beyond half-baked schemes no matter how noble. This won’t make a lasting impact without a full-scale investment in the health and care system.’

The review will look at hospitals that currently have high food standards to see what other NHS trusts can learn from them. It will speak to hospital caterers, patient groups, suppliers and kitchen staff – as well as national bodies such as the Soil Association and National Caterers Association to look at how Trusts can benefit more from local and fresh produce.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I’m determined patients enjoy the best, most delicious and nutritious food to help them recover. I have seen first-hand how using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and cooking from scratch have improved the quality of their meals.’ 

…or have too many celebrity chefs spoiled the broth  

Miss Leith is not the first celebrity to be brought in to improve hospital food.

Ex-MasterChef host Loyd Grossman was appointed in 2000 to run the £40million Better Hospital Food Programme.

He assembled a ‘magnificent seven’ of chefs, among them luminaries of some of London’s most celebrated restaurants including The Ivy and The Savoy, to bring up standards.

Loyd Grossman was appointed in 2000 to run the £40 million Better Hospital Food Programme

Heston Blumenthal, pictured, was also involved in efforts to improve hospital food

They devised 43 new recipes containing delicacies ranging from mung beans to banana brulee – but many patients stuck with the traditional hospital options instead.

Airedale General Hospital in West Yorkshire said the experiment with macaroni, smoked haddock and herbs on its wards failed because of patients’ adverse reactions.

A spokesman said: ‘Perhaps olive oil mash is not something that appeals when you are under the weather.’

In 1995, chef Albert Roux launched nutritional guidelines for hospital catering – which were largely ignored. 

Television chef Heston Blumenthal also signed up to a project to improve NHS meals in 2010, and recommended changing the smells and lighting experienced by patients as they eat.

He devised the idea of using kelp – or seaweed – to make food more flavoursome without using additional salt.

But a report in 2013 revealed that celebrity chefs, food experts and 20 years of reviews, inquiries and initiatives costing more than £54million had failed to improve hospital food.

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