Monday, 28 February 2011

Jurassic thinking

The idea that, one day, dinosaurs might roam the earth again is no longer fiction. Step forward Bob Crow, leader of the RMT trade union. Mr Crow has suggested that we can deal with the UK’s budget deficit by putting a 1p tax on every email sent in the UK. That way we can avoid making any pubic sector workers redundant, including no doubt our highly efficient and very courteous railway workers.

The man’s a genius - an absolute bloody genius! That crafty little plan is going to be just the ticket for promoting inward investment and increasing business communication. It’s amazing how Mr Crow hasn’t managed to become prime minister. Why the hell didn’t anyone else think of that idea? It makes you realise that he’s really worth the £95,000 a year he’s paid, up a mere 12% on last year.

In other news, drivers could soon be required to employ a man in with a red flag to walk in front of their cars in a bid to cut road accidents.

Dying to get home

Tonight's Dispatches exposes the heartbreaking way that elderly folk are being denied the dignity and peace of dying at home, surrounded by loved ones and the things that are familiar to them. The shocking undercover footage of elderly patients being treated with cruelty and disdain will break your heart.

Death is the last taboo in our society and yet it is something we must all face. We strive to live a good life and yet some people are being denied a good death. Despite government promises to allow everyone the right to choose to die at home, half of primary care trusts are still not providing the 24-hour nursing care required to make that a possibility.

Channel 4’s Dispatches uncovered the case of 80-year-old Ken Rasheed, who spent his last days in East Surrey Hospital with Parkinson’s and pneumonia. Nursing staff seemed to have no idea he was close to death, and are filmed telling him off for not swallowing his pills – even though he was so ill he could only swallow them with yoghurt rather than water.

One nurse is filmed telling him impatiently: ‘This is a busy ward; [other] people need some care as well’, as her colleagues callously discuss the impact of spending cuts while leaning over Mr Rasheed to change him. To make things worse, he contracted E.coli and septicaemia while on the ward. He eventually died in hospital – despite wanting to die at home in front of a Manchester United game or a cricket match.

Dispatches, Secret NHS Diaries is on at 8pm tonight on Channel 4.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Something for the weekend

I've had so much response to the clip of me eating Braised Liver & Bacon Hotpot that I've decided to print the recipe here so that you can make your own version of this recipe from the Better Hospital Food recipe vault.

Now, this version feeds rather a lot of people so you may need to ask a few friends round. Unfortunately the recipe doesn't have any tips on how to make it taste as bad as the one I had. A good place to start would be to buy the oldest and toughest slab of ox liver that you can find and then some mechanically recovered slivers of connective pig tissue. Serve with waterlogged cabbage and unseasoned mashed potato. Here's the recipe. Let me know how you get on.

Braised Liver and Bacon Hotpot Leading chef's recipe
Ingredients For 100 Servings
9kgLiver Sliced
350mlVegetable Oil
1.8kgBacon Back
1.5kgOnions Diced Fresh
2kgSwede Diced
2kgCarrots Diced
180gFlour Plain White
370gMustard Whole Grain
7ltChicken Stock
8kgPotatoes Cooked Sliced
10gBlack Pepper Ground
Texture:Slices of liver and pieces of bacon with lots of diced vegetables all under a crisp sliced potato topping. The stock/sauce element should be quite thin.
Colour:The top will be a golden brown and the stock will be pale and will have a slight orange/golden tinge to it. The colours of the vegetable should be seen.
Flavour:Lots of strong flavour to the stock from the vegetables, bacon and liver. The dish contains grain mustard, which should be noticeable but not overpowering.
1.Heat 200ml of the oil and fry the liver browning well on all sides. Remove and drain well. Arrange the liver in trays
2.Heat the remaining oil and fry the bacon pieces till it starts to brown, add the diced, onions, swede and carrots and cook for 3 minutes without colouring the vegetables. Sprinkle in the flour and stir in well, cook for a further minute stirring often. Stir in 250g of the mustard and then gradually add the hot stock stirring in well till smooth.
3.Add the sage then pour the vegetable and bacon mix over the liver.
4.Par boil or steam the slices of potato. Allow to cool arrange the slices over the liver ensuring a complete and even covering.
5.Melt the butter and mix in the remaining mustard. Brush the sliced potatoes with it. Season with the salt and pepper and bake in a preheated oven 180ºc/350fº/gas 4 until the potatoes are fully cooked and golden brown

23 g
20 g
16 g

Thursday, 24 February 2011

This can't be right

Sshh... listen carefully. Can you hear the unmistakable noise of heavy breathing, chomping and snuffling? It sounds just like a pig eating out of a trough. But no... it's only the nation's new breed of fat cats helping themselves to even more public money to fund their engorged lifestyle.

Top NHS managers have enjoyed an average 50% pay increase over the past five years. In health trusts up and down the country these glorified paper shredders are now earning more than the prime minister while wards are staffed by medically qualified individuals on salaries that are below the national average.

The NHS has to cut spending by £20 billion in the next three years and the way this will be achieved is by sacking 50,000 frontline workers. Actually, I'm so pleased that they aren't axing any managers. I mean, when I was in hospital I know I could have managed without the nurses and healthcare assistants on the ward, and at a push I probably could have done away with the doctors, but if you'd taken my managers away I would have been just left there in a room, on my own, without any managerial support of administrative backup of any kind. I would never have been able to get better and get out of that hospital.

It's time the public stopped carping on about people like the chief executive of The Heart of England NHS Trust who receives a reported £240,000 a year. In my view he's worth every penny. Oink!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Watch it here

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?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What is it?

Absolutely vile but what is it? Thanks to Kelly for sending the photo in

Thank you

Thank you to all of you who posted here or emailed me after last night's programme. Some of your stories were heartbreaking and I will try to get round to replying to you but I am snowed under with the response and there is only me to deal with all the correspondence.

Thank you too to the people who posted some fairly vile comments about me personally and my ingratitude at the state for honouring my National Insurance contributions. All I can say is that some of the more rabid posters neither listened not digested the full argument. I wasn't moaning about my healthcare. I had excellent nursing and surgical care and I would do anything to support the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. It's a fantastic hospital and I am more grateful than I can ever say for the love and support that many of the staff showed me. However, I feel under no obligation to be grateful to Sodexo or the catering contractor. They are paid money to do a job. If the money on offer from the hospital is insufficient to provide decent and nutritious food then I suggest they turn the contract down. It's not difficult.

The NHS has faults and the programme uncovered some disturbing information about how vulnerable groups are cared for and fed. For those who blindly defend the system as it stands, all I can say is that you probably haven't been in hospital with a serious illness yet. It is, of course, always possible for friends and family to help feed a patient, but sometimes patients don't have family living locally or they may be at a specialist hospital some considerable distance from home. Then there is the argument that they should pay for the food. Overlooking the fact that medical insurance normally covers food costs, it can be difficult if you fall seriously ill and can't work. Money becomes tight or non-existent. The last thing you need is the financial worry. That's why the NHS was set up. If you pay for food, then how about drugs? What about dressings? Maybe personal care too? Where do you want to stop?

I could go on but I'm really tired so forgive the shortness of the post.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Let's make a change

I've been writing here for the best part of 18 months, lamenting the dreadful state of hospital food in some of our hospitals. On Monday 21 February (Channel 4, 8pm) the documentary I've been making for the past year finally reaches the tv screens of UK viewers. I think it takes a fair and balance look at nutrition in our hospitals and how it affects different types of patients. I hope you all get a chance to watch it and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I've started a campaign to push for better hospital food. If you're a UK registered voter then please visit the campaign site and consider signing the petition.

I'd also like to point out here that although my experience of hospital food wasn't very good, I have only the highest praise for the medical care I received at my hospital. NHS workers take a lot of criticism, much of it deserved, but there are still thousands of dedicated and wonderful people who care for the sick and go the extra mile to make their patients comfortable, often in the face of amazing obstruction from petty regulators, managers and consultants.

To the frontline workers of the NHS who really do try to make a difference... thank you.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Can we sink any lower?

Just when you think the world can’t get any more insane you read another story about the NHS and realise that the lunatics really are running the asylum. Take today’s announcement that hospitals are to start using trespass laws to evict elderly patients whom, in the hospitals’ view, are bed blocking.

Anyone who has ever had to take care of an elderly patient or relative will know that the provision for home care is patchy at best. Sick elderly people who live alone and don't have any close family are not able to take care of themselves. What home care there is available is about to become even rarer than hens' teeth with local councils determined to slash frontline services before reforming their gold-plated pensions and stratospheric salaries. Dave Cameron’s Big Society will have to take up an awful lot of slack to fill the void.

My own experience of care of the elderly in their homes includes a 79-year-old lady being left to nurse her sick husband , including having to change his catheter bag, administer drugs and deal with washing the bed linen once a day and changing bed sheets with her husband still in the bed. There was an offer of some care workers to pop in on a daily basis, but these individuals were pathetic excuses for help. They often arrived late, spent most of their time texting friends on their mobile phones and refused to do anything that involved lifting the patient or cleaning him up. Frankly, I don’t know what the point of sending them round was.

The same lady needed help herself last year. Her husband had died and now she needed nursing. The same useless bunch of poorly educated young girls turned up with one aim in mind: to get their time sheet signed – complete with falsified arrival times – and then to push off to the next ‘client’. All they did was microwave the old lady’s dinner and make her a cup of tea. In the meantime, she was left to sit in a chair that was soaked in urine.

And now our hospitals want to use the law to throw out people who need nursing and send them back to their homes in the care of useless carers, which, incidentally, the elderly must pay for. The number of spaces in council run homes or funding for places in private care homes has reduced dramatically so what's to become of these vulnerable people?

Is the NHS really proposing that we throw out elderly patients and let them fend for themselves? Because that’s what these proposals will mean in practice. Once again, words fail me that we can be such a barbaric and uncaring society that we can't even manage to feed, bathe and care for the elderly and give them a little bit of dignity.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Proof at last

I’ve been banging on for ages about the poor treatment of our elderly at the hands of the NHS. I've heard first-hand reports from patients’ families who've told me how their loved ones were often left untended and unfed. Tales of dehydration, of being left in soiled bedlinen and denied kindnesses the rest of us take for granted meant their final days were spent in misery. The families’ complaints were brushed aside with callous disregard as the NHS damage-limitation machine cranked into action.

Since raising the matter on my blog I’ve also had a few abusive posts from NHS supporters or people who work for our health service, but the truth remains that some of our elderly are treated worse than animals when admitted to some of our hospitals. There is an endemic culture in some sectors of the NHS that sees the elderly as simply not worth saving or worthy of dignified and caring treatment.

Fortunately, at last, the establishment is grudgingly admitting the truth. The Health Service Ombudsman has published a report today that says the reasonable expectation that an older person or their family may have of dignified, pain-free end of life care in clean surroundings in hospital is not being fulfilled. NHS provision is failing to meet even the most basic standards of care.

It goes on to say: “These often harrowing accounts should cause every member of NHS staff who reads this report to pause and ask themselves if any of their patients could suffer in the same way.”

According to the Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, the patients in the ten cases that she studied had all been loving, active people of a generation that didn’t like to make a fuss. She goes on: “They had simply wanted to be cared for properly and die peacefully – but they all suffered unnecessary pain, indignity and distress while in the care of the NHS. As a result, they were transformed from alert and able individuals to people who were dehydrated, malnourished or unable to communicate.”

Shocking examples of lapses in care contained in the report include:

• An 82 year-old who died alone because staff did not realise her husband had been waiting to see her for three hours.

• A woman was not washed during 13 weeks in hospital, did not have her wound dressings changed and was denied food and drink.

• A woman who was discharged from hospital covered in bruises, soaked in urine and wearing someone else’s clothes.

•  The life-support system of a heart attack victim was switched off despite his wife asking to leave it on while she contacted the rest of the family.

In response to the report, Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “It is of course important to put these 10 examples in perspective. The NHS sees over a million people every 36 hours and the overwhelming majority say they receive good care. But I fully appreciate that this will be of little comfort to patients and their families when they have been on the receiving end of poor care.”

He still doesn’t really get it, does he?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Words fail me

What on earth is it supposed to be?
A friend sent me this photo last night. It's a 'meal' that was served up yesterday to a child who had just undergone an appendectomy. Poole Hospital should hang its head in utter shame. I don't even know what it's supposed to be.

Since my upcoming documentary on hospital food was announced, the propaganda machine of the NHS and the Hospital Food Caterers' Association has swung into action. I've experienced smear tactics and a robust response from the hospital caterers on the possible content of my programme, even before it's been shown! Some feathers have been seriously ruffled.

I make absolutely no apology for naming and shaming hospitals that serve muck like this or where patients aren't even afforded the dignity of receiving adequate food and drink. The more these vested interests and arrogant forces have a go at me, the more I shall do to make sure they are held to account for the scandalous waste of public money and the nutritional neglect of patients. I won't be bullied or intimidated into shutting up.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Racism is everywhere

Sometimes I get the overwhelming urge to rush back to hospital and place myself back in traction. At least when I’m safely tied to a hospital bed there’s less chance of me seeing things that will send my blood pressure to dangerously high levels.

Today my blood pressure has been needlessly cranked up thanks to one Sonia Carr of Warminster. This humourless and sour individual has cost the taxpayers of Wiltshire thousands of pounds by reporting a chairman of a local health watchdog for racism.

Mrs Carr was at a meeting of Wiltshire Involvement Network (that’s WIN, in case you hadn’t already got it) when the chairperson of the group commented that rumours of pending changes to the NHS were likely to spread like wildfire. The expression the chairperson actually used was: ‘You ­cannot help the jungle drums.’ The 70-year-old responsible for uttering such a viciously racist comment was one Anna Farquhar, a former bigwig from the Citizen's Advice Bureau and a lifelong member of the St John Ambulance service.

Incidentally, the meeting was held in the notorious ghetto of Potterne Wick, a mere petrol bomb's throw away from the dangerous inner city of Devizes, in the hideously multicultural county of Wiltshire. Mrs Carr immediately challenged Mrs Farquhar at the meeting for the dreadful faux pas. Mrs Farquhar then apologised and carried on with the meeting.

Unfortunately, Mrs Carr, who just happens to be a member of Wiltshire’s Race and Equality Council, wasn’t satisfied and wouldn’t let things go. She decided to report Mrs Farquhar to the local council and a six-month investigation ensued, resulting in a ten-page report on the incident. At an estimated cost of £10,000, the report is an absolute bargain at just a grand per sheet of A4. Tsk... anyone would think we were in an age of austerity or something.

Mrs Farquhar and her fellow committee members were then asked to accept the report’s findings that the language had indeed been racist. It seems that for something to be racist, all that’s needed is for one person to be offended by something someone says: that’s all it takes.

Because Mrs Carr thought ‘jungle drums’ was a racist comment, the law says it must be racist by virtue of the fact that she thinks it is. In effect, Mrs Carr has acted as judge, jury and executioner. She claims she wanted a more fulsome apology from Mrs Farquhar and for her to be subjected to equality and diversity training. No doubt she’d also like her to wear sackcloth and ashes just so she can feel morally superior. According to council sources, Mrs Carr has plenty of ‘form’ for this sort of thing having raised allegations of racism against against the police, the fire brigade and council officers.

I daresay that Mrs Carr’s chums at the Wiltshire Race and Equality Council were very pleased with her as they could end up delivering the race and diversity training. I mean, what else do they do for the staggering £113,463 of public money they receive to spread this sort of poison? By the way, a mere £216 of their funds were donated by private individuals... that's not exactly what I call a ‘grass-roots’ organisation.

Mrs Farquhar quite sensibly refused to accept the legitimacy of this McCarthyist nonsense; as a result, the invertebrates running Wiltshire County Council have now banned all members of Wiltshire Involvement Network from all council premises and meetings – after all, they're practically members of the Klu Klux Klan, aren't they? The group’s funding has also been withdrawn.

How could such a ridiculous situation arise in a country that’s supposed to be a developed nation of intelligent people? How does someone like Mrs Carr manage to persuade an entire county council to partake in her hideously distorted view of the world? It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Oldham weighs in with fat tax

According to The Sun newspaper, health-conscious councillors in Oldham want to slap a £1,000 ‘fat tax’ on takeaway outlets – in an effort to tackle obesity.

Can we just be absolutely clear about something here? Councillors don’t want to ‘slap a fat tax’ on anything... the meddlesome, unelected council officers do. I’ve never met a councillor of any political hue who ever had an original policy thought in their life. The vast majority of ‘initiatives’ that come from local councils are dreamed up by ambitious council officers anxious to be the first to introduce triple roundabouts, gay maths lessons, healthy eating programmes or any other fashionable nonsense that happens to take their fancy or will give them a step up to the next rung of the career ladder.

Anyway, back to the local council in Oldham, a town in northwest England, where the local council is reported to be considering charging takeaways a levy of £1,000 a year, which the council claims will go towards healthy eating initiatives. In other words, as local council budgets are cut, the local nomenklatura who run our councils are desperately looking for ways to stop their empires from being cut back. There must be hundreds of five-a-day coordinators and diversity champions quaking in their boots right now. Their bosses will be most upset at the prospect of losing staff; in the world of local government, having your department downsized is worse than having your private parts cut off.

Apparently not all food outlets will fall foul of the tax as the council is considering exemptions for takeaways that serve healthy options such as ‘smoothies’. Obviously, the town hall gauleiters don’t realise how much sugar, flavourings and other crap reside in the average smoothie. I doubt very much if any obese residents living in Oldham need fortifying with a smoothie.

This isn’t the first time that a local authority has tried to enforce healthy eating. Last year a number of councils distributed new salt dispensers to their local chippies. These new shakers have fewer pouring holes and therefore deliver less salt than the conventional shakers. This concern for our health is all very touching but it might be an idea if the jobsworths made sure our bins were emptied regularly and that local rat populations were brought under control before they turn their attention to salt and fat levels in our diet.

Frankly, the foodie in me doesn’t really care if these proposals to tax takeaways serving lard and other vile food are introduced. However, the libertarian in me certainly does. This Orwellian nudging and interference in our food choices is no business of local councils.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Dying for a drink

Two patients a day die in our hospitals for want of a drink of water. According to figures released by the National Office of Statistics and reported in the Daily Mail, some 800 patients die of dehydration in our hospitals every year. That’s a higher figure than those dying of dehydration in elderly people’s homes. And those figures are just the officially recorded cause of death. The actual number of patients who die from dehydration could be far higher.

The figures for deaths through malnutrition in our hospitals stand at 284 in 2008, that’s up from 175 deaths recorded back in 1997. The squeeze on NHS food budgets and a lack of money made available for extra help feeding frail and elderly patients could be to blame. However, some of the problem may, according to anecdotal evidence, be due to an increasing reluctance by some nurses to attend to basic needs such as feeding and hydration of patients. Often this work is left to unqualified healthcare assistants.

These figures are for deaths attributable to malnutrition and dehydration. The true figures may never be known but we do know that a large number of elderly patients have their health impacted by poor nutrition. If these official statistics are true, then the NHS is owning up to more than 1000 people dying every year in our hospitals through lack of food or fluids. That’s one third of the number of people killed in road accidents each year. Unfortunately, unlike road deaths, where enormous sums of money are spent on speed cameras and other traffic calming measures, little appears to be done to address these entirely avoidable deaths.

There’s no other way of saying this… deaths caused in our hospitals through neglect in feeding and hydration need to be made a serious offence. It’s nothing short of state sponsored murder when patients die of thirst or hunger. Until someone takes responsibility and is jailed for this, patients will continue to die needlessly.