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NHS caterers can see nothing new in using plain English

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Hospital caterers are bemused by recent newspaper reports saying that they have been forced to print plain English translations of some of their new menus because patients do not understand what they are being offered.

The caterers’ confusion stems from the papers making a story out of the subject, because, they say, they have always spelt out what is on their menus.

Mike Hall, director of operations at the Blackburn, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley NHS Trust, told The Times that many of his patients did not know that a carbonade of beef was a rich beef casserole or that navarin of lamb was lamb stew served with fresh vegetables, and needed such descriptions to be spelt out.

He pointed out that patients wanted food they were comfortable with and recognised. He said that Trust caterers had always tried to explain dishes to patients and added: “They do it in restaurants; why not do it in hospitals?”

Stephen Morgan, operations director for catering at Bedford Hospital, felt that the reports were “mischief-making”. He has opted for chef dishes that are attractive to the majority, rather than unfamiliar, trendy meals.

A spokeswoman for the Hospital Caterers’ Association (HCA) said that spelling out what was in a dish was “fairly common practice”. It was, she added, part of a general trend that people wanted to know what was in their meals, for health, medical, ethical or religious reasons.

HCA national secretary Sandra Roberts believed that descriptions were important to ill people, who became picky and reverted to familiar comfort food. She said that it was even necessary to explain the ingredients chosen for less exotic dishes such as Irish stew and chilli con carne to ensure that patients got what they expected.

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