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Appalling Food a health hazard in Hospitals

The NHS is putting patients at risk with appalling food, senior doctors have warned.

Ministers have been told that people staying in hospital to get better are being presented with food lacking in essential nutrients and loaded with salt even though a large number are on drug treatments to try to remove salt from their bodies.

To drive up the quality of hospital food, medics are urging ministers to make Scotland first in the UK to put nutritional standards for NHS meals on a statutory footing.

Among those voicing concerns are Mike Lean, a professor of human nutrition at Glasgow University and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) which is also calling for tougher controls on portion sizes for obese patients.

The quality of food served up in Scottish hospitals has long been a source of concern. During the summer, Ravenscraig Hospital in Greenock was told to improve its catering after a number of incidents where elderly patients choked on hard vegetables.

Last year patients rated hospital food at NHS Grampian the worst of any health board in Scotland amid reports that health chiefs in the region were spending only 89p on preparing a two-course meal.

“From long-term careful observation of meals, it is clear that current efforts are failing to provide even the option for inpatients to eat a nutritionally complete [balanced] diet,” said Lean.

“There is no formal evaluation or monitoring and requests for improvement, for example to provide sufficient vegetables and fruit for a ward, are simply ignored.”

Criticising a lack of training in nutrition for caterers providing food for vulnerable patients, he said: “As a general physician and a professor of human nutrition, I often observe what is provided to the patients, and the meals are commonly very poorly designed, such that they cannot possibly supply the nutrients required by a healthy or sick person.

“Most patients expect low standards and many supplement the hospital foods with extra fruit, etc. Others are unable to do that. The meals being provided currently frequently arrive without vegetables and fruit. Meals commonly come with salt, even though half of our medical inpatients are on drug treatments to try to remove salt from the body [diuretics].”

Bearing in mind that two-thirds of Scots are overweight or obese, the RCPE argues that “for those with excess weight portions sizes may need to be moderated”.

Tougher dietary standards set out by the Scottish government in a consultation paper on hospital food could help to discourage children from consuming fast food, the college suggests, and it calls for lower-fat milk to become the norm on NHS menus in which all options should be healthy.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association wants a ban on all soft drinks and confectionery sold in hospital vending machines and on-site shops in recognition of the fact that many patients will also consume food and drink sold there during their time in hospital.

Aileen Campbell, the public health minister, is examining the case for making nutritional guidelines revised earlier this year legally binding to ensure patients are offered food that is lower in fat, salt and sugar, depending on their dietary needs.

She said Scottish hospitals “must promote health in everything they do”.

She added: “While hospital food has very good standards of nutrition we are currently considering how we can ensure only the best standard of food is served.

“We have also introduced new standards for food available in hospital shops, vending machines and restaurants, requiring at least half of the food on offer to be healthy.”

Source: - 9 October 2016