Redundancy fears over hospital meals

Emotions ran high at a health meeting when it was agreed that meals served to patients at community hospital beds in Norwich will be shipped in ready-prepared - leading to the redundancy of up to 46 kitchen staff.

Emotions ran high at a health meeting yesterday when it was agreed that meals served to patients at community hospital beds in Norwich will be shipped in ready-prepared - leading to the redundancy of up to 46 kitchen staff.

The board of the Norfolk Primary Care Trust was accused of “not having a clue” about the needs of patients in its cost-cutting measures and giving them what amounted to “airline food” rather than freshly-made meals from its own kitchens.

It means that from January, catering facilities at Colman Hospital in Norwich - revamped at a cost of around £50,000 earlier this year - will only be used to reheat chilled meals delivered each day by Cambridge-based company Anglia Support Partnership (ASP).

The meeting heard that the PCT spends £1.1m a year on its “excellent” in-house catering service for patients and staff at Colman Hospital, a head injuries ward, cancer ward, day unit and the hospice Priscilla Bacon Lodge, but will achieve its target of saving £300,000 by taking on a contract with ASP

Under the new system, meals will be prepared in Cambridge and transported to the hospital up to 36 hours before they are “regenerated” for patients.

When asked about kitchen staff, some of whom have clocked up 30 years' service, Mark Taylor, director of provider services, said the PCT would look at redeployment or possible re-training and added that the loss of 46 workers was a “worst case scenario”.

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He added: “These proposed changes have caused a lot of anxiety because the current service is very good, but not very cost effective.”

Jill Keatinge , whose son Mark has been cared for at a specialist head injuries ward at Colman Hospital for 20 years, spoke out at the meeting and afterwards told the EDP that she would share her anxieties with her MP.

“I think we need a campaign for real food as opposed to airline food,” she said.

“What is more important than clean hospitals and good food, and if it's good now, why change it?

A man who has worked at the Colman Hospital kitchen for 10 years and who asked not to be named, told the EDP after the meeting that the board did not have a clue.

“When people come to the ward, they start eating when they haven't been eating before and they build themselves up,” he said.

“All our meals are cooked fresh.

“We had a cook-free system for three months when the kitchens were being done up and it didn't work very well; the type of patients that we have on the unit have specific needs that need to be catered to, when they need them.”

Staff from ASP said they had recently won the tender for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, against four multinational commercial companies, and had listened to the needs of patients there.

PCT board chairman Sheila Childerhouse said: “Flexibility is a key issue where people want reassurance. Food is not just about the nutritional needs that and what goes in to the body, it is very important to people.

“We always want to avoid redundancy to staff who provide such a vital service for patients, but we don't want to impact on frontline services.

“It is a difficult position we have but we do have to agree with this decision.”

Health staff based at St Andrew's House at Thorpe St Andrew are to move to a new office complex at the nearby Broadland Business Park.

The board of Norfolk Primary Care Trust yesterday heard the current building was financially unsound and needed £11.6m spent on it to make it fit for purpose.

The PCT will also benefit from a net capital receipt of over £4m from the sale of the 100-year-old building.

St Andrew's House was established as a hospital for mental health patients in the 1850s.

Presenting “extortionate” maintenance costs and overheads, the ageing building has large areas locked down due to asbestos contamination and has sprawling empty corridors with teams and offices spread throughout the large building.

The move is expected to take place in spring next year.

Six health centres will go on the market to bring an £8.2m cash injection to patient services, health chiefs agreed yesterday

Surgeries at Adelaide Street, Lawson Road, Bowthorpe and West Pottergate in Norwich, and Thorpe and Wells are the only remaining centres owned by the Norfolk Primary Care Trust.

“They are something of an anomaly as there are 92 GP practices in the PCT's area and the other 86 are either already GP owned, or are owned by a third party,” said the PCT's deputy director of finance, Paul Coker.

“The GP services and the community health services will still be provided in the same way, from the same premises.

“It is simply a change of ownership of the property and in doing so the trust will avoid the risks of property ownership, such as maintenance liabilities.”

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