Friday, 2 October 2009

Hairy Bikers top NHS food poll

The poll has closed and the people have spoken. You, the readers and followers of this blog, have voted and chosen a messiah to sort out some of the dreadful slop the NHS is currently trying to pass off as nourishing and wholesome food. Who did you trust to be Gordon Brown’s Hospital Food Tzar?

You may remember that back at the beginning of the noughties, one Lloyd Grossman, he of the ridiculously strangulated vowels, was asked by Tony Blair to overhaul hospital food and turn it all Cool Britannia. The Better Hospital Food Programme was set up and given £40 million of taxpayers’ cash to enable Lloyd to get stuck in to developing tasty treats like Navarin of lamb with couscous and grilled vegetables.

Unfortunately, it seems the vast majority of NHS patients don’t possess any teeth of their own and find anything spicier than mild onion gravy to be witchcraft or work of the devil. Nurses described Grossman's dishes as slop, and someone else pointed out that it wasn’t really possible to serve restaurant food three times a day on a budget of just £2 per patient. Far better to truck in vats of cook/chill sludge from South Wales at 60p a throw.

Things didn’t improve. Chefs found the poncy recipes difficult to scale up for mass catering and they were too expensive. Quietly the recipes were dropped. Then, in 2005, the British Medical Association's junior doctors committee called on the government to appoint Jamie Oliver to transform hospital food, hoping some of his school dinner magic might rub off on the NHS. The government promptly responded by shutting down the Better Hospital Food Programme.

So here we find ourselves, three years down the line with the same old problem of inedible food, monstrous waste and some patients leaving hospital with malnutrition. We thought we’d see if Jamie was still the nation’s favourite choice to deal with NHS slop or whether his star was waning. Our poll was asked readers of this blog which TV chef they would like to see sort out the great NHS Slop Scandal. And here are the results:
  1. The Hairy Bikers 279 (21%)
  2. Jamie Oliver 266 (20%)
  3. Delia Smith 262 (20%)
  4. Gordon Ramsay 164 (12%)
  5. Nigella Lawson 121 (9%)
  6. Keith Floyd 80 (6%) [Yes, we know he's dead but it seemed bad manners to leave him out.]
  7. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall 67 (5%)
  8. Nigel Slater 41 (3%)
  9. Antony Worrall Thompson 11 (0%) [snigger!]
The Hairy Bikers scooped the title by a whisker… well actually quite a few whiskers or else they wouldn’t be called The Hairy Bikers, would they? But can Si King and Dave Myers sort out the slop? Will they even want to? Or should the job be given to a safe pair of hands in the form of number three on the running order, the matronly St Delia of Norwich, Britain’s Carmelite nun of culinary science?

And as for Jamie, there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of him doing it… he’s got far too much on his plate at the moment. And does he really want to be a tzar in the dying days of Brown’s government? Let’s have your thoughts on the results. Could those cheeky northerners succeed where others have failed? Or are NHS patients destined to carry on slopping out for ever?


  1. Besides, Jamie had too many dissappointing encounters trying to convince the depressed house wives and working dads to stop buying food out and cook it for themselves instead. He's not a czar, he's a depressed food elf in the midst of evil cannibals.

  2. I think I would have to slap Jamie Oliver if he came near hospital food.
    Odious little man.

  3. Hello. I work as a HCA on the wards and, while I know this will be of little comfort to yourself, your food actually looks much better than ours. We serve up vegetables taht have been cooked to death and beyond. You could drown in them they are that wet. Also we serve one tasteless chilli once every four weeks nad that is as tasty as it gets. Blandness is our speciality. It is all down to the appalling budget. I have discovered that is you ask for halal or oriental meals you can get food that looks and smells like it has seen some herbs and/or spices!

  4. MY whole problem with 'budgets' being used as an excuse for inedible food is that it is not impossible to provide GOOD and nutrutious food on a budget!

    Why does the food have to be so horrid, tasteless and badly presented? I mean, it is not impossible to cook a chicken casserole with veg for large numbers? Or a veggie stew? I mean, I am only a mum but I cook regularly for larger numbers than are in my family and I manage it. Professional cooks should have no problem.

    Pasta Bolognese! Easy as anything to cook in bulk. Veggie option available!

    Forget the faffy restaurant menus and go for good wholesome cooking! Anything else is pointless.

  5. Seems to me hospital food should have as much importance in a patient's diet as medication.

    *IDEA* zing!!!!!!!!!!!

    Let's cut the numbers of hospital managers! That would immediately free up unimaginable amounts of loot and hospital meals would improve overnight. (But sack the current caterers and let's get hospital chefs doing what they're good at - cooking.) What job satisfaction can there be in reheating bucketloads of pig swill for patients ..

    But there you see, I'm an idealist and a dreamer. Sacking vast numbers of overpaid people who don't have a single clue about patient care would be like trying to eradicate mare's tail from the garden. (They know as much about patient care as a horse's @rse so the comparison is even more apposite than I first thought.)

    And that's the thing. Money is being wasted on management consultants, vast numbers of hospital managers, assistant hospital managers, management assistants to the management assistants of the managers, PLUS frilly bits of technorubbish for hospital waiting rooms (I could go on and on and on ..)

    Anyone who has been in a meeting with these people knows how they quack on about being robust and pro active and cutting this and cutting that and all they do is eat up vast resources with their overinflated salaries and wind up the people who are in the job to get people better. You could sack at least half of them and not notice the difference (apart from the sudden availability of vast oceans of cash).

    They did a survey a little while back in one hospital (or was it several in a region?) and disovered that management outnumbered the hospital staff.

  6. All you have to do now is write to Si and Dave and they will be at your bedside in an instant... good

  7. I agree wholeheartedly with Sooz. I bet you could at least halve the admin side of the workforce and probably find the whole hospital ran more smoothly. When I was in we used to watch the suited idiots walking round with a piece of paper or file and I swear most of them did that most of the day.

    Gerry Robinson would be the guy to sort it out, he has a mild manner but boy is he effective.

    What's for lunch TM, I'm getting peckish.

    p.s. You are really hitting the big time here in France. The French learning English used you as their topic today!!!!

    Keep up the good work. Ruth

  8. What a coincidence. I've just set up my own business as a management consultant. I have a contract with a major NHS trust and am working on a project called Better Utilisation of Leveraged Liabilities in Secondary Hospital Information Tecnology. I'm hoping this pathway to efficiency will enable a reduction in nursing staff by 50% with a productivity increase of 75%.tRye savings we will make can then be reinvested in new project for strengthening management structures which is known as Additional Regional Senior Employees Strategy.

  9. Like it TM, what will your Title be?

  10. You've been on the Government Assisted Scheme for Better Administrative Goal Setting haven't you TM. Admit it.

    However, seeing that there are moves afoot to freeze the pay of hospital managers (better late than never, though I feel the government could apply more stringent methods of reducing waste at the hospital management level) it looks like you'll need to download Waste Administration Notes for Keyworker Evaluations in Regional Scenarios from I gather some NHS Trusts Managers have this as their home page.

  11. Best of luck with your latest endeavor a.k.a. "B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T.". Here's hoping that the reduction of nursing staff will facilitate the spread of A.R.S.E.S. and thus save money in the long term.

    Jolly Good Show

    Management Bloke

  12. James May for PM1 October 2009 at 13:08

    Hi TM
    Not commented before but i have also suffered at the hands of NHS "catering". lost a stone in 8 days, moved wards 5 times and the food never follows you had a major barney at a mananger when for the 4th day in a row i wasn't fed as i had moved wards during the night (along with lights on etc) whrn he asked me what i wanted/expected him to do about it i said go and find my breakfast! to give him his due he went and returned with said meal i had a spoonfull and promplty vomited over him.
    Anyway reason for post is that the only highlight of my stay was meeting Si and Dave along with James Martin who visited the sick childens ward both Si and Dave spent time chatting about bikes etc a nicer pair of guys you couldn't meet.
    At least our main hospital has a Mcdonalds in the main entrance oh and a visitors cafe that SELLS the same crap you get on the wards.......
    keep on keeping on

  13. News travels slow to Canada. I thought the hairy bikers were Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson. WTF?

  14. I wonder if a different approach might work better - particularly as the foodie approach doesn't seem to have worked in the past. It sounds like the Lloyd Grossman escapade was more cosmetic than practical and more about food looking good.

    I think there is a useful commercial angle here. I don't know how much it costs to run a hospital bed, but it probably runs into hundreds of pounds per day - compared to which the amount spent on food is chicken feed. If the NHS fed patients properly they would recover faster and release the expensive hospital resources sooner.

    From a business angle how about Sir Gerry Robinson - he has already done a TV series about trying to fix the NHS.

    Or alternatively how about a nutritionist - someone who really *gets* the benefit of good nutrition and understands what can be achieved.
    How about Dr. Adam Carey (as seen on celebrity fit club)

    or how about Dr. Mark Stroud OBE

    You see, I really do feel that something should be done about this. I believe that hospital food can be improved and save the NHS money at the same time.

  15. I'm totally with you on this, Musclebear. Behind the irony, schoolboy humour there beats a serious heart. There's nothing I'd like more than to see nutrition taken much more seriously within the NHS. Beds cost a minimum of £300 a night to run so even if patients got out a day early, the extra cost of proper food would be easily recouped. I'm convinced that increasing the food budget would decrease overall costs. The only way I know how to make the point is by humour which I hope works better than ranting, which I can also do :-)

    I'm not giving up on this now I've got my teeth into it. Thanks for the suggestions. I'll follow them up.

  16. James May for PM1 October 2009 at 14:19

    Gerry Robinson has gone on record as saying the NHS cannot be changed without starting from scratch. the series he did showed exactly what the problems are and that manangement did not want to alter anything or if they did then the finance was not available.If someone withn his track record cant do it what hope is there?

  17. James May for PM1 October 2009 at 14:34

    Sir Gerry's prescription for the NHS. After a thorough examination of the patient, he has detected a pulse, albeit a faint one: "The NHS is not collapsing. It is constantly running out of money, but you do get treatment in the NHS and it works. What it needs is managing."

    We need to be more confident managerially and start hiring people who do things, not talk about doing them – people who believe we can have change and that it won't cost a fortune."

    To better utilise what money there is, Sir Gerry would sack all management consultants employed by the NHS immediately. "If the people who have been working in hospitals for 20 years don't know what the problems are and don't have ideas how to solve them, I don't know who does.

    So is Sir Gerry the million-dollar man, the superhero we need to save our ailing NHS? "Ah," he says, "I'm too old. You need someone younger prepared to get old fast."

    Sir Gerry, looking younger by the moment, surveys his peaceful, orderly study, his dog sleeping at his side – and a wistful expression passes across his face.

    "But what a wonderful job. Get this thing humming and every night you'd go home really pleased with yourself."

    Sorry the guys a hero of mine!!

  18. One suggestion for you Traction Man - try and dispense with some of the anger should you get the opportunity to do something about the hospital food issue. Many people will back off and refuse to talk when confronted by "Angry of Mayfair" - you need to be a bit of a diplomat, a smart thinker and, as you're dealing with politicians, a bit of a politician yourself.

    Go in all guns blazing and the buggers will just drop a nuke on your head.

    Now I can appreciate your anger (it comes across a lot in your blog entries) given your current situation, but you need to be cunning, you need to get the support of the people, you really need to show some positivity and get people on your side.

    You can do it.

    Just my tuppence worth.

    Good luck! :-)

  19. I'm not angry, honest. I prefer to think of it as satire. I can do diplomacy. You see, I was a politician (smalltime) in a previous life but the more I hung out with politicians the less I liked them. I gave it all up back in 1992. You only see my web persona. I'm a charming pussy cat in real life. That's the beauty of the Internet. I totally agree with you're suggested approach. It's only by being nice and lovable in person that I've avoided being poisoned by the catering staff :-)

  20. "To better utilise what money there is, Sir Gerry would sack all management consultants employed by the NHS immediately..."

    Now there's the huge irony, for what else is Gerry Robinson if not a management consultant?

    I - as (I am all too happy to admit) another mancon myself - followed his series with great interest and, although there was much that I believe he missed through not knowing the sector, he nailed it when he showed that managers were simply not managing in any real sense or way.

    The Chief Exec was simply stuck behind his desk, rarely venturing out to look, listen and learn. He hardly dared to.

    But GR also strongly pointed out that different clinical professionals could completely undermine any attempt to make a whole system of health care, through their deeply entrenched attitudes and relentless exercise of expert power - 'empire building', refusing to the share facilities, blocking change if it meant they lost status and influence, etc, etc.

    The gulf between what senior management believed they had to achieve (Guvment targets by-and-large) and the service the clinical staff were paid to deliver (make people better)was a gaping, roaring chasm.

    The Chief Exec failed the Ohno test of 'being there.' The professionals were dug deep into their silos. A dog's dinner indeed.

    What GR was able to achieve was quite simple. He did not go in with either a preconceived solution to a problem he had not yet seen for himself (as your 'Six Sigma' types would do), nor was he told the often and dread: "This is the latest Guvment strategy. We don't like or even understand it, but it's got to be done so be a good fellow and make it happen for us. We'll leave that with you if we may. Just come and tell us when it's done."

    GR simply went in with a fresh mind, a terrific business nous and a willingness to look at and learn from everything and from everyone. Then he challenged everyone: "This simply isn't working is it?"

    He gave them, in himself, a space for everyone to own the gulf between management and clinical staff. A go-between perhaps, or a safe haven too. (He showed respect and he gave his trust.) He wasn't there long enough (my main criticism of the series) to make any lasting difference, but his analysis of both problem and solution was spot-on.

    Not rocket science, or even rocket technology, but a fine example of what good mancon can achieve if the will and the wit is there.

    So where would I start with this food malarkey?

    THBs to spend their first week working in the hospital kitchens to look, listen and learn what really happens there. But not just that, follow the whole food trail from egg in hen, to omelette on plate, to food in tummy.

    If you want - and you don't - some buzz words for this: seek out 'value demand' and seek and destroy 'failure demand'. Value demand - food that is eaten. Failure demand - the cost of carting away the food that is returned to the kitchens uneaten. But don't, above all, start with a target to reduce failure demand: "50% less pig swill by 2010." All they would then do would be to send the waste for incineration and claim they'd met the target!

    Meet with procurement, dieticians, finance directors, patients above all, chefs and kitchen assistants and any one else who is a part of the whole process from stem to stern. Talk to them, find out what goes on in their respective worlds. You can bet no one else has ever done that.

    So don't start with grand plans, fine chefs or even great recipes. Begin by checking the reality of the entire food chain, and do some serious root cause analysis of why something is going wrong. There will always be a cause behind a cause behind another cause.

    Then start to plan, based on the reality of what you have - both what works well and what is bust - and not what you think you have because that's what it says on paper. ('Theory in use' vs. 'Espoused theory.' More buzziness!)

  21. James May for PM1 October 2009 at 18:38

    Yes hes a consultant these days but the difference is he listens and as you pointed out didnt go in with preconcieved ideas etc (the same mo he alwys uses).
    the strategy you outline above is exactly what GR would do but i suspect should he or anyone else do so then any meaningfull change would be blocked by those with vested intrests in maintaining the status quo That i believe is the biggest problem and the hardest part to crack. I mean you couldnt replace everyone at once could you?

  22. I am fed up with saying this but say it again I will.
    The reason why hospital food is bad is because the majority of hospitals do not have their own kitchens - hence why we have to have frozen food shipped in.
    Yes i agree there are too many managers BUT what needs to happen is this...
    The government and the Dof H needs to stop hassling Trusts about targets and output and all the other jargon and realise that buy giving people good nutritious food that they will eat will enable them to get better, respond to treatment and get home quicker.
    Fact - average length of stay for a patient who is malnourished is 17 days.
    Average length of stay for a well nourished patient - 6 days.
    It costs £388 aproximately per patient per day to keep someone in hospital - not record science is it to see how savings can be made.
    BUT there are a lot of organisations out there who are beavering and nagging away. So yes we are aware and yes we are getting there slowly BUT it is like wading through ( hospital) custard.

  23. Virtually every poster on this site - me especially - is with you. Couldn't agree more. Maybe by embarrassing the DoH with bad publicity like this, we can put pressure on them to change. Revisit the blog tomorrow for some fun stuff on NHS management.

  24. Hey Mr Traction Man

    If you're looking for a highly experienced Director of Iatramelia, Cacotopia and Kleptocracy in Hospital Emergency Acromegaly Departments, then let me tell you, I'm just the person to join your new consultancy company. Every consultancy company worth its salt has one.


  25. You're hired, D I C K H E A D :-)

  26. Be careful traction man, see what the nhs is cooking up now for patients

    Anyway I've been in touch with the Red Cross, Medecins sans Frontiers and the Matabele Church of the Holy Toenail who have said they pray for you and will send bush meat as soon as possible.
    I've also ordered a wooden horse, you know, the sort of thing with Richard Attenborough inside digging with a teaspoon. I'm not sure when that will arrive the young lady on the phone said she may have trouble getting enough Greeks. She then asked would Poles do. I explained that you would be unlikely to do any pole vaulting so she said something about getting in touch with the mayor of Calais, all she needed was a hundred. I'm not sure what she was talking about but keep an eye out for patriotic squaddies planting sweet peas and potatoes outside your window soon.

    Good luck mon brave

  27. The other inmates and I had started a tunnel. Unfortunately I'm on the second floor. Don't worry abot the Poles, the place is crawling with them. Perhaps you could form some sort of external escape committe.

  28. That's ok in theory but once we got in to you would we ever get out? Whilst we all sympathise with your plight, I can't see too many of us stomaching the delights of hospital fayre. We have been exposed to what it can be like so maybe another tack might be called for. Keep up hte good work. Ruth