Wednesday, 23 February 2011

It's all part of the problem

The hospital that I spent ten weeks in has hit back at the programme I made for Channel 4. Now let me get this straight from the start: I love the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. Do you want me to say it again? I love the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. It's a fantastic hospital with the most amazing staff. Everyone from my surgeon to the healthcare assistants on the ward were absolutely brilliant. Even the catering staff did their best. But the problem is the food supplied by the outside food contractor.

Sadly, the Nuffield has responded with the same sort of denial that every hospital trust issues by implying that somehow I must have been mistaken. Well, I'm sorry chaps. Just look through my blog again and ask yourself if you would serve some of that food to your family? No, I didn't think so. Burying your heads in the sand and pretending this didn't happen is silly. You won't improve things and you end up looking silly. Embrace the criticism and improve things. Make a positive out of a negative. Here's the statement issued by the hospital

“We are sorry to hear that Mr Sparrow’s experience of hospital food during his time as a patient did not meet his expectations. We recognise that patients with extended stays in hospital, as in Mr Sparrow’s case, may result in menu ‘fatigue’. During his stay at the hospital between September and October 2009, Mr Sparrow was provided with a variety of meal options in addition to the daily menu choices. Our records show that he received regular visits from catering staff to ensure his needs were met.”

So the blog and my video diary was a complete fantasy brought on no doubt by a fevered imagination fuelled by excess quantities of morphine. Barmy! Look, guys, I'm on your side. I love your hospital, I love your staff but your catering supplier is letting you down. Most places would take that sort of criticism constructively and would do something about it. Would the chief executive really eat my liver and bacon hotpot? I'd pay really good money to see her try.

Until this denial in the NHS is dealt with, nothing will change. Anyone who saw Heston Blumenthal's documentary filmed at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool can see the problem. The defensive caterers refuse to see there's a problem. The staff eat better food than the sick children and the poor kids are left at the bottom of the pile. Meanwhile the majority of the chefs are used to cook food that's sold in the hospital's cafe and restaurant in order to pull in £2 million a year. Is it me or does anyone else find this upside down logic baffling?


  1. When all else fails refer Douglas Adams?

    There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.There is another theory which states that this has already happened - Douglas Adams

  2. I watched your programme on channel 4od last night. Its great that you are drawing attention to this major problem which seems to have been and still is ignored. Everyone involved does seem to be in a state of denial, including the public health minister you interviewed in your programme. Passing on the responsibility to GPs is clearly not the answer. It seems that someone or the people at the top have to take responsibility for the issue, I'm afraid how the minister responded shows they are incapable of this. Maybe we have to put as much pressure on the top people to take responsibility, like what your programme is drawing attention to. Its like they are ostrichs with heads stuck in the sand.

    I was in hospital 3 weeks ago in London with the food being dire, inedible. What you showed in the film were reminders. Served sloppy remnants of food, a congealed disgusting mass. Luckily this was a short stay but I had to spend 7 months when I was 12 in hospital, that was 7 months of disgusting meals.

    What do you suggest we do to help raise awareness of the issue? As in who do you think we should write to? Thanks very much, Katharine

  3. Can you get as many people as possible to sign the petition?

    Write to your MP and your local hospital. Get everyone you can to do the same. Let's flood them with letters so they get the message. We need doctors and managers to eat the same food as patients. No exceptions!

  4. Hopefully someone here may pick up your doco so I can see it, couldn't even see the trailer here as it was only available to the U.K.

    So let me get this right, you have video and still expedience (which we all played guess what this is here) but you were only imagining it but you are being attacked for things not said or implied, sounds like typical miss-direction to me, can I expect to see your confession to your participation in the JFK assassination soon ?

  5. Try this link, Rod

  6. Thanks for the reply TM. It would be good to somehow mobilize the campaign petition on the scale that avaaz does, although just for the UK. They get hundreds of thousands of signatures but things are more global, but still is letting governments hear the voices of the people en mass.

    I'm at uni maybe I could spread details about to people at UCL somehow.

    Thanks again for drawing attention to the issue!

  7. Dear Katharine

    Please do pass it around. Numbers really count with politicians. They only do something when they can see their own job on the line.

  8. I've had a different sort of experience of hospital food. Last year I regularly attended a hospital in Bristol for treatment for anorexia. At the time I was just grateful for the help but looking back it wasn't the kind of food that would encourage anyone to eat, let alone someone with complex issues around food. For people who struggle with eating I would have thought providing good quality, nutritious food would be especially important. I've had friends in residential units attached to hospitals who've suffered because food has been late and of poor quality. They have no choice but the eat the food on offer. I don't think hospital managers have a clue of the distress caused when someone has spent hours convincing themselves it's ok to eat and then the meal doesn't arrive on time. Thankfully this period in my life is behind me, but it does make me angry to think what hospitals are getting away with feeding the most vulnerable of people. It should be better!

  9. Anorexia treatment is a huge problem. From family experience I am deeply sympathetic. Anorexics get a really raw deal. It's something I'm very keen to investigate. Well done for winning the battle. I know it's hard but you should be very proud for having conquered this terrible disease. x

  10. Thankyou that means a lot. Surprisingly it still seems to be something people don't talk about. I really hope that changes. Keep up the good workx

  11. Dear ETM

    Saw your documentary last night - excellent and well balanced [by no means a whinge-fest] and then watched Heston's programme too. Your report made me feel very sad and ashamed.

    Your report was well compounded by Heston's report - the famous Alder Hey Hospital with 4 Chefs for staff and visitors and just 2 for the 200+ sick kids. The menu was quite appalling - mini pizza (frozen), potato waffles (from frozen), spaghetti hoops and baked beans - all loaded on one plate to tempt a sick child. Not a sign of anything fresh, green or nutritious.

    Never having had any morphine that was not my imagination - Heston looked pretty sober, too.

    What an insult ETM saying that this was "menu fatigue" and quite frankly a pathetic cop out.

    Anyway, enough from me.

    Best wishes, Cats' Mother

  12. Hi Mark,

    You have probably answered this question but I can't seem to find the answer so here goes! I know you spent 10 wks in traction after being re-amdmitted with a fracture. What were you originally in for (I know you had Septicaemia). Sorry about the question - I am a very latecomer to your Blog.

    Cheryl Emmanuuel

  13. Keep up the good work Mark, I gather you were on BBC Breakfast on Monday and I saw you on West Country today and Points West. Going to listen to the Kay Adams programme later

    Get yourself some rest as well !

  14. It's hard to experience menu fatigue when you are only there overnight, but the NOC food was still inedible on each of my three stays during the past 18mos. Agreed that the staff are fantastic, but all they can provide foodwise is a snack box. Man cannot survive on cheese sarnies alone.

  15. It sounds like the same old, same old.

    If the patients, staff and managers all ate the exact same food, things would soon change.

    The managers and board of directors (and accountents who actually seem to run the NHS) wouldn't eat about 90% of whats put in front of them. I personally think if hospitals were to cancel all catering contracts and produce their own food, things would certainly improve.

    Lets hope enough people sign the pertition that someone actually takes notice.

  16. XTM.... I tried the link you gave to Rob...( Hi Rob ), it was start stop and took me two hours to watch.

    What an excellent documentary, you are a natural as your voice is natural to do documentaries, interesting, always questioning with vital questions, none of this sway and evade , just get in there all horns blowing.

    Well done, very well done.xxxxx

    I hope you will be offered to do future documentaries, hygene, pests, filth, state of bin collections, general state UK is in and other such stuff.



  17. Can i just add.... I think your wife deserves a medal. I can imagine what she has also gone through during your illness, and also your preoccupied time making the docu, both of you should be congratulated, but your wife must have the patients of a saint to put up with everything from day one.

    Good for you Mrs XTM....xxxx


  18. Hi Ness

    Mrs XTM is pretty good, I have to admit. Thanks for your kind words. i intend to go on and do more digging. It's been a long haul but very satisfying.

    All the best


  19. Hi again,

    Have you thought of turning your hospital experiences into a book? I'm sure it would sell well.


  20. I for one will buy the book you write ,on the subject of the dire disgrace the once proud NHS system was the envy of the world .

    The more i read about the UK , the more i want to stay in Crete.

    I support from afar, for the country i love and hopefully will sell my house and be of more support back home.

    Just explaining to my husband the docu you did, One of the best commentators in any programme on TV is the great man himself ....David Atinbourough.

    Spelt wrong..!!

    Next to him you are brillient, precice, clear, focussed and ask the right questions.


  21. Just where do the hospitals get their statistics from when they claim what percentage of patients like the food etc. My son was in hospital with pneumonia for 4 weeks, I was beginning to think he would starve in there and was taking food in for him to eat. It was difficult to take much in as visiting was restricted due to norovirus. As far as I am aware he never filled in any forms to say what he thought of the food. I asked if he could have nutritional drinks to supplement the diet and they agreed but the most he got was an occasional high energy drink, not exactly what I asked for. When he was discharged he looked worst than when he had been admitted.

  22. I watched your programme with great interest. Last April my son (9 years old) had an extremely serious condition - a tumour inside the spinal cord. In Great Ormond Street the food was fairly good and it was fantastic that there was a kitchen about 10 yards away from my sons's room so I could more or less prepare what I liked. But I got the shock of my life when we were moved to Basildon Hospital, Essex. Can you believe this - I was told they didn't have a children's menu. How can you not have a children's menu? The food was absolutely appalling. They tried a little - there was chicken nuggets once a week but it was completely tasteless. Luckily I was able to be with my son throughout his his six week stay. All his food - and I do mean all of it I purchased from the hospital canteen so it cost a fortune - money I just did not have. I would have ventured out to a restaurant or take away anything to help his appetite along. But I didn't want to leave him for any length of time and to get out of the hopital and find a parking space on my way back would have meant him being alone for hours - I simply couldn't do that so the canteen was my only option. It wasn't great but at least it meant he could have a bacon sandwich or some chocolate. I know this was not at all healthy but much better than him eating nothing at all. I think what really struck me when I was in hospital is the sheer boredom of it all. Quite honestly (apart from visitors) his friends couldn't see him during school hours obviously, so the only thing for him and me to look forward to was a meal. Food should be really appetising when you are ill. Hopital I think comes from the word hospitable and that should be all part of the package. I think it is great that you have shown up this problem with the NHS - good on you. I hope those who are really responsible for this catastrophe in the NHS break out of their denial asap.

  23. I work in a dementia unit, the food is bland, colourless and uninteresting. If the NHS provided better quality food there would be less need for supplementary drinks. Do not be fooled that catering for staff is any better, where I work we have next to no catering except perhaps a bacon/sausage/black pudding role, soup (if we order in time) we have to supply our own milk, sugar,salt,pepper and even plastic cup for water. I could go on but I am already despondent staff nurse feeling like a robot!

  24. so what did Alder Hey do after Heston's visit. they took the 'cold lunch prepared at the bedside to make food fun and interesting' and now just send up a tray of either cheese,ham or tuna sandwhiches, wrapped in cling film. The only choice being white or brown bread. I can't even imagine how monotonous that must get, but hey I,m sure its cheap.