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Councillor Jenny Hannaby at Wantage Hospital. Photo from Oxford Mail.

An article in last week’s Oxford Mail reveals that Oxfordshire Health NHS Foundation Trust is planning to replace kitchens in nine community hospitals with pre-heating of chilled meals cooked off-site. A campaign is now underway to save the hospital kitchens.

While resources are inevitably under pressure in the NHS, a report by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food finds that sub-contracting catering to external private contractors can in fact cost more in the long term. “Nottingham City Hospital, for example, saved an estimated £6 million by going back to freshly preparing and cooking food on-site after a period of contracted-out catering. John Hughes, Catering Manager at the trust, informally estimates that the NHS could make annual savings of £400 million if every hospital did likewise.”

In addition, removing catering from local control means that the economic value of hospital food through employment and procurement of ingredients is lost to our local economy in Oxfordshire.

But not least among reasons for questioning the removal of hospital kitchens is the right of patients to expect good, tasty and healthy food as they recover from illness. Food made on-site from fresh, seasonal ingredients has higher patient satisfaction ratings than pre-made food. “A survey of caterers in 2013 found that eight out of ten hospital catering staff would prefer to prepare and cook patient meals from scratch in their own kitchen and seven out of ten said that having the use of their own kitchen would enable them to prepare higher quality meals.” Better meals also leads to less uneaten food, reducing high wastage rates in hospital catering.

Hospital food is about more than calories – it’s an integral part of patient care. Let’s campaign for it to be given the value it deserves and recognise that cutting costs on this now could cost us all more in the long term.

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