Stephen Jardine: Making a meal of hospital food

STEPHEN Jardine asks; Do YOU like hospital food?

Succesful food and drink export stories need to be translated into good hospital food. Picture: TSPL
Succesful food and drink export stories need to be translated into good hospital food. Picture: TSPL

That has long been more of a threat than a question, for good reasons. Every day, hospital caterers across Scotland have to produce meals to cope with a vast range of dietary and nutritional requirements on a very limited budget. Their customers range from people with next to no appetite to those for whom mealtimes are the highlight of long, empty days.

Unlike south of the Border, in Scotland strict guidelines ensure nutritional standards are met. That’s important but it misses a fundamental point. There is no point in producing a meal that meets fat, starch and sodium specifications if nobody wants to eat it.

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With standards to meet and budgets sometimes less than those for food in prisons, it’s not surprising hospital food sometimes fails the taste test.

Back in 2011, a survey showed only 59 per cent of patients at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary were happy with the food and drink they were served. The issue isn’t just patients going hungry and not getting the energy and calories they need to aid nutrition, but also the vast quantities of food thrown away at the end of every single day.

A new initiative launched last week sets out to address these challenges and make hospital food all it should be.

The Good Food Challenge 2014 has been launched by the Scottish Government to improve hospital food by getting teams of health service caterers to compete against each other to produce dishes using fresh, local ingredients. The winning menu in the competition will then be produced by hospitals across the country.

With the Soil Association Scotland aiming to introduce its Food for Life catering mark into hospitals across the country and emulate the success it has had in schools, there is a sense that the health service is the next area of public catering set for improvement

But more than that, I think health secretary Alex Neil indicated a shift in government attitude when he launched the hospital catering challenge.

“Scotland is known as a land of food and drink, with some of the best natural produce in the world. Despite this, Scotland still has one of the poorest diet-related health records in the developed world”, he said.

“Whatever the reasons for our dietary habits, the Scottish Government is determined that our culture must change if we are to prosper as a nation.”

For the past five years the Scottish Government’s focus has been growing our food and drink sector to the point where it is now worth more than £5.4 billion a year. But what’s the point of that success if we’re still struggling with bad diet and poor health outcomes?

The emphasis must now be on taking the success our food and drink has achieved abroad and using that pride and the profit to improve life here. We need to be a good food nation.