Stoke Mandeville Hospital’s à la carte choice a tasty move

Feature on hospital food at Stoke Mandeville Hospital - pictured are some of the dishes on offer
Feature on hospital food at Stoke Mandeville Hospital - pictured are some of the dishes on offer
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There are two places I would usually dread having to eat – on an airplane and in hospital.

However, following a visit to Stoke Mandeville Hospital for a taster session, I can now say if I was ever unfortunate enough to spend time there, the food would be the least of my concerns.

The hospital’s meals are prepared off-site and warmed up to order on the wards so they can be given to patients when they want them.

During my visit I was given a taste of roast beef, shepherd’s pie and chicken tikka masala, all of which I could have happily finished off if it wasn’t just after breakfast.

Patients can choose from an à la Carte menu comprising 23 hot main courses as well as cold options, desserts, a supper menu and snacks.

The hospital says giving patients a choice is crucial.

Ian Garlington, director of property services at Bucks Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “If you just put something in front of people, sometimes they will end up eating nothing.

“Our system means on any given day you could wake up and decide you want fish and chips or shepherd’s pie or whatever.”

Last month, a report by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food slammed failed investment in hospital food programmes over the past 21 years. In its wake it was suggested the Government should introduce compulsory standards for patient meals.

Stoke Mandeville has had its current system in place for two years and hospital chiefs feel further regulation is not needed.

Mr Garlington said: “We buy from a professional outfit. We audit and quality check their supply chain.

“I don’t believe there’s more that we could do.

“Additional regulations over-arching what we have is not going to be beneficial.”

Patient meals at the hospital are produced by Tillery Valley, a division of Sodexo.

It provides dishes which are carefully designed to provide fresh meals for a variety of patient groups, including people with different religious beliefs, allergies and preferences, including vegetarianism.

It has not always been this way.

Five years ago complaints about patient food were high, with many of the limited meals available being served cold.

It was a turning point for the hospital, which went out to see what other places were doing and linked up with Sodexo to produce the current menu.

Mr Garlington said: “We have worked hard and invested a lot of money at Stoke Mandeville to bring our food offering up to a par.

“Most people are unable to distinguish if the quality of an operation is good or bad. But everybody is perfectly capable of gauging the quality of food.”

As well as the simple matter of ensuring patients enjoy what they are eating, staff know how important it is to their recovery.

Liz Evans, nutrition nurse specialist at the hospital, said: “One of the reasons the quality has improved so much is because we know how important it is.

“When you look at all the stuff that’s going on nationally, patient nutrition and hydration are directly linked to patient clinical outcomes.

“A person who is malnourished will have a larger risk of wounds breaking down, of chest infections, of pressure ulcers.

“All of those not only are pretty horrible for the patient but they will also increase the length of their stay.

“Malnutrition costs the NHS £13 billion a year. Hospital infection costs it £7.2 billion. That’s how important it is.”

Today there are fewer complaints and wasted meals than five years ago. In fact, the trust throws away less food than any other.

A success story then, it would seem. But no one is resting on their laurels and chiefs accept they can never please everyone.

Mr Garlington said: “There’s always somebody who it won’t be right for.

“We accept that but try to make sure your best choice gets to you fresh and hot.”

My advice? There’s nothing to fear, but maybe stay away from the crumble.