Fears for James Martin’s hospital menus

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Concerns have been raised that Scarborough Hospital’s food could end up being shipped in from York and reheated on site.

Fears are growing over the future of the hospital’s “home-cooked food” approach, which was highlighted on a national level by celebrity chef James Martin in his BBC1 show Operation Hospital Food.

Following the news that meals will no longer be cooked on site at Bridlington Hospital from February, the chef has told The Scarborough News that he will be “keeping a close eye on the situation”.

He said: “I am aware of what has been announced at Bridlington Hospital and hope that the consultation process will take account of the very real improvements that have been made to the patient meals there.

“In the first series of Operation Hospital Food, I worked with Scarborough Hospital to improve their food.

“It now has a hugely successful and profitable catering department.”

He added: “We have proved that it is possible for hospitals to provide better, nutritious food at no extra cost.

“I will be keeping a close eye on the situation as any change would mean a lot less quality and less choice for the patients and staff.”

Scarborough Hospital’s catering team gained national acclaim after appearing on the week-long documentary series, which aired in 2011.

James Martin helped staff roll out a new menu, with a focus on fresh, local produce. New dishes included fresh soups, slow-cooked pork baguettes and sticky toffee pudding.

Catering manager Pat Bell told The Scarborough News at the time that she was inundated with letters and calls from people wanting to visit - with some even asking for jobs in the kitchen.

However, two years on, York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is looking at proposals for cook/chill provision.

A consultation is now under way at Bridlington Hospital, where 13 catering jobs are at risk. The consultation is due to end on October 29.

Bosses have stressed that catering is “under review” at Scarborough, but no decisions have been made.

However, a report carried out for York trust by an independent food safety consultant has recommended that “cook/chill patient meals are provided for all hospital sites from the central production unit at York Hospital”.

The consultation document also states that cook/chill provision “forms part of the trust’s catering strategy”.

Terry Cunliffe, regional officer for Unite, said: “I would be extremely concerned if they were to duplicate the plan for Bridlington in Scarborough.

“I don’t think cook/chill is the best way. Scarborough Hospital’s work with James Martin demonstrated that fresh food is best for patients in aiding their recovery.

“In my opinion, this trust knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.”

Mr Cunliffe added that he had “serious concerns” about the central production unit in York, which requires a significant amount of investment.

He also raised the issue of transporting food by road to Scarborough and Bridlington, with seasonal issues such as severe weather in winter and traffic jams in summer.

Mr Cunliffe has written to the trust’s director of facilities to voice his concerns.

Alex Jackson, co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, has also made a plea for on-site cooking, saying: “Patient meals which are freshly cooked in a hospital’s own kitchen are often more popular and likely to include the best local ingredients, but more and more hospital kitchens are closing in the mistaken belief that it saves money to buy in pre-prepared meals from outside the NHS.

“Local people, and particularly patients eating the food, recognise that these are bad decisions dressed up to look like good decisions.

“The government must introduce mandatory standards for hospital food to protect kitchens and the jobs of the trained staff who work in them. Without these standards, any progress in improving patient meals, like James Martin achieved at Scarborough Hospital, is always going be at risk.”

A spokesperson for York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “Given our current financial constraints, we have to prioritise our limited resources and, quite rightly, want to focus any investment into clinical services.

“Catering is a high-cost area for the organisation and we need to ensure that the service is running as efficiently as possible.

“We have yet to finalise how we can best harness the hard work and professionalism of our catering staff at each of our sites to ensure each and every one of our patients and customers enjoy a consistently high standard of nutritious food.

“As the catering strategy develops we will consult wherever necessary with any staff that may be affected and will ensure that they are the first to be informed of any planned changes.”