Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mark Sparrow, Dispatches and Hospital Food

I've just seen an excellent television programme, Dispatches, about a journalist, Mark Sparrow, who had to spend ten weeks in hospital and found the food so bad that he set up a blog, Notes from a Hospital Bed, about it all.

Back in 1984 - Daphne's Year of Horrors - I was stuck in a hospital bed for some considerable time, in a side ward, pregnant but knowing I was likely to lose my baby, and more miserable than I've ever been before or since.

From time to time a meal would arrive on a tray. Sometimes it didn't arrive at all, because they forgot about me, what with me being kept in a side ward away from other pregnant women who tended to have a more hopeful prognosis.

Anyway. When the food did arrive, I just couldn't eat it. I simply couldn't tell what it was half the time - and I'm really not a fussy eater. I do remember asking a nurse if she had any idea what a particular vegetable was supposed to be - - and she didn't.

So, of course, I just got rather weaker and more malnourished, which set me up nicely for my forthcoming year of illness after losing my baby: I had a deep-vein thrombosis, a pulmonary embolism and very nearly died.

And in those darkest days, on my own in the side room, with nobody to talk to because they simply didn't know what to say to me and so kept well away, I thought - - this is ridiculous! I am pregnant: all the information about pregnancy emphasises the importance of good nutrition, and yet they are feeding me food that is almost entirely vitamin-free.

So one of the things I did when I finally escaped and began to recover was to complain about the food. I can't remember now what lousy excuse they fobbed me off with, but I was too busy trying not to die to pursue it further.

Nearly twenty-seven years later, hospital food is still, in many places, terrible, with serious health implications for the patients. Loyd Grossman said, on the programme, that a hospital is not a good hospital until it has good food.

He's right, isn't he? Anyone disagree?

Many different ways have been tried to improve the food - - and yet, with 43% of hospitals cutting their food budgets, I'd say it's not a priority, is it?

However, through my work as a Simulated Patient I have hit on a solution.

I have attended very many training courses for doctors and the food is generally good. The best food tends to be on courses for surgeons. So: why's that then? Surgeons have status and can insist on decent food - and actually, they work long hours in a difficult job and why shouldn't they?

So here's how to improve hospital food for patients. A law should be brought in that the same food should be offered to patients as to consultants, surgeons and all senior staff.

Does that make sense? Of course it does! Is it likely to happen? - - - Well, I leave you to think of the answer to that one.


Blogger Jennyta said...

Excellent idea, Daphne. I couldn't understand the set up though. Mark complained and was then served from the staff canteen but, if they had a staff canteen, why couldn't they also do patient meals? I also didn't realise that some hospitals have been built without kitchens. Utterly ridiculous!

11:49 am  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

I must say that in my stays at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield the food was always very acceptable and I looked forward to the meals they brought. That's how it should be in all hospitals but under the ConDems people will be lucky if they get gruel.

1:44 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

When I think of 1984 I think of a lovely trip to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, but you think of your annus horribilis and I'm sorry you had to endure it.

This probably won't ever help you unless you go to Florida again to visit your friend Silverback and get sick while you're there: The hospital with absolutely the best food a patient ever ate is Mease Countryside Hospital in a town called Safety Harbor, Florida. It's near where Hillsborough County (Tampa) and Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) collide and all you or he would have to do is drive up from Sebring, cross the Sunshine Skyway bridge, and ask for further directions.

2:07 pm  
Anonymous Ruth said...

There is so much I could say on this. I'll try to limit myself.

Having read your blog, I sought out the Dispatches programme on Catch Up TV.

In the opening sentences, Mark Sparrow casually named the hospital he had been in that started it all - the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

Three weeks ago, I spent one night in the NOC following a hand operation. I was to get on the ward at lunchtime and the admitting nurse (having already given me fresh toast and marmalade after my early op) was very keen I should have lumch. She knew I am vegetarian.

On the ward, I was in bed with my right hand completely unusable and I was offered a jacket potato - 'yes, please', with tuna 'no thank you, I'm vegetarian and don't eat fish'. I was then given a potato. Uncut. Just a baked potato on a plate. With a knife and fork wrapped in a paper napkin. Nothing else.

I was then given a portion of grated cheese to accompany the potato.

Just as I was about to query how I was supposed to eat this potato given I could not use a knife and fork, I overheard another patient being offered a choice of meals including macaroni cheese.

I asked for and got this. It was ok, as was whatever I had that evening and breakfast the next day. Okay, not brilliant, but adequate for one night.

There's too much more I could say. Please indulge me in this final point similarly raised in the excellent programme.

A few years ago, I spent about five weeks feeding my dad in hospital. I tried to be there at every meal, except breakfast, as I feared he otherwise would not eat at all. I also had to try to get my father to drink as he became severely dehydrated.

When my dad died in hospital, he was a shadow of his former self. His rounded tummy was concave, his face was sunken. I know he would have died anyway. He did not starve to death.

But I also know, as said on the programme, it is disgraceful that some patients are not fed, are left with their food tray out of reach, are not given the opportunity to have enough to drink.

Being in hospital is not fun. Not being fed nutritious, tasty food is wrong.

9:27 pm  
Anonymous Gareth said...

After nearly a week nil-by-mouth and a few days on fluids only, I was given the opportunity to sample hospital food at York District.
I had Chicken Soup. I suspect that they didn't use actual chicken, but instead a sculpture of a chicken made of pure salt They then added salt and made it yellow. The only meal for over a week, and I couldn't finish it. All I wanted by that point was fresh fruit... A rather sad looking banana was found after a while, but I swear they just thought I was trying to make trouble.

It was a week later in St James that I had the sausage casserole which could only be described as tasting of stale farts. It was served with grey soggy peas and a *tiny* carton of orange juice

2:08 am  
Blogger Jan Blawat said...

Gareth, this is the recipe for hospital-style chicken soup: fill a deep, wide pan (like you'd use to drain the oil from your car) with lukewarm water. Set it in front of the chicken pen gate. Get behind the chickens and run them through it. For more flavor, leave it out all day and the chickens will walk through it again in the evening when they return to their roosts. Add salt to flavor. Then add 3 times more salt. Serve lukewarm with stale crackers.

5:19 am  
Blogger Jan Blawat said...

I forgot to add that you serve the soup lukewarm because if you heated it, you might kill the bacteria, and that would lower the protein content.

5:21 am  
Anonymous Helen said...

I didn't see the programme, but recently I read this:


which links into the bigger picture of why personal care in hospitals, including care of patients' nutrition, can be so poor. I'm aware that it is only one nurse's view, possibly of just one hospital or ward, but I thought it was interesting. WARNING: It's a bit sweary!

11:53 am  
Anonymous Helen said...

Oh! My link got chopped in half. Perhaps this will work instead: http://bit.ly/cYdJyn

11:54 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

Jennyta - I'd say it's got to be financial reasons. Staff canteen meals will cost much more than the pre-cooked frozen slop.
YP - yes, the food in Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds, which saved my life, was excellent. So it CAN be done.
Bob - thanks for the tip! Glad there are SOME hospitals with good food.
Ruth and Gareth - your comments made me cry with sorrow and shout with anger. Grrrrr!
Jan - and yours made me laugh so much, thank you!
Helen - that link gives us a LOT of insight I think, thank you!
Thanks to you all for your great comments!

8:03 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

When my sister was in hospital for months with gallstones and pancreatitis, she used to feed the geriatric patients on her ward because the nurses didn't have time.

10:20 pm  
Blogger WendyCarole said...

Have to say my experience of hospital food has been good. The one meal I had on Christmas eve at Bradford Royal Infirmary was very nice.

In the 70/80's living in Aldershot the food at the miltitary maternity hospital and the cambridge military hospital was more than excellent.

However my daughter's father in law is in hospital on teesside and needs to drink loads of water each day he is only getting what the visitors can give him when they are they!

11:03 am  
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