August 31, 2008

MPs Call to Scrap Hospital Food Deal

By dave blackhurst

Two MPs are calling for action following complaints about food at a hospital since its catering contract was privatised.

Newcastle MP Paul Farrelly has asked University Hospital of North Staffordshire chief executive Julia Bridgewater if the deal with catering giant Sodexo can be torn up after complaints.

And Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley is disappointed the hospital ignored her concerns and signed the contract which involves food being cooked 140 miles away from where it is served to patients.

Now Ms Walley is calling on officials to urgently restore public confidence in the complex's food standards by rectifying the problems since the private firm's take-over from NHS cooks.

The company prepares the food at its plant in South Wales before delivering it by lorry to the hospital where it is warmed in new kitchens.

But Ms Walley said: "It seems plain wrong that when we should be using local producers and cooking nutritious fresh food on site, we are bringing in meals from so far away.

"That cannot be good for the hospital's carbon footprint.

"The trust took no account of my opposition.

"If these are all teething problems, the trust must correct them immediately to restore public confidence."

Unions sent a catalogue of complaints to the hospital within days of the contract starting earlier this month.

They included kitchens being too small, meals getting to wards so late patients had to have hot toast instead, custard being so thick it had to be served in slices and a ham sandwich being offered to a Muslim.

Mr Farrelly has said he was called by a constituent in hospital who talked about a whole ward being 'in rebellion' over the food.

He said: "I was also told of patients not getting the meals they had ordered two days before.

"It makes no sense on environmental and health grounds to be cooking food so far away. From what I have been told and from comments in The Sentinel, scenes appear to be chaotic."

In a letter to Ms Bridgewater, Mr Farrelly states: "If, as it seems, Sodexo is providing a very poor service and not meeting its contractual obligations, what options are available to the hospital?"

The trust and Sodexo say the concerns are being taken seriously. Meanwhile an independent study has found it is less harmful to the environment to use Sodexo with its one lorry delivery a day.

The report from the Institute for Environmental Sustainability and Regeneration at Staffordshire University concludes carbon emissions are 40 per cent less.

(c) 2008 Sentinel, The (Stoke-on-Trent UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.