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PFI hospital food comes under fire

17 October 2005

Patients in Private Finance Initiative (PFI) hospitals are being deprived of fresh food because most of them lack proper kitchens, according to the London Hospital Food Project.

The organisation - a joint venture between Sustain and the Soil Association - has called on the Government to ensure that hospitals are built with fully functioning kitchens, and not just reheating or regeneration centres.

Mike Duckett, catering manager at the Royal Brompton Hospital, which supports the project, said: "Patients and staff in PFI hospitals will have to rely on pre-prepared, frozen and reheated meals - almost always less tasty, less healthy and worse for the environment and jobs."

But catering consultant Matthew Merritt-Harrison reckoned precooked, chilled and frozen meals could be as nutritious as fresh food, although he described the PFI solution as a "high-risk" approach. "By not putting in a kitchen, hospitals are locked into that system for life," he said. "There's also a risk associated with not having suppliers on site if something goes wrong with the delivery. Hospitals dependent on processed meals have less choice - they're unable to change menus quickly or tailor them to their local population."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said all NHS hospital trusts made their own decisions on their catering arrangements but were required to offer a range of nutritious meals reflecting patient needs and tastes 24 hours a day.

By Angela Frewin

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