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The James Martin Formula to Improve Hospital Food

by Judith Morrison

Having watched some of the BBC's Operation Hospital Food with James Martin, I think the work he did over four years has produced the formula any hospital can use to provide patients with economical, nourishing, enjoyable food.

The biggest obstacle to overcome is the bureaucratic system in which hospital food has become embedded.

So first I will list the main points I've learnt from James Martin, which I'm calling The James Martin Formula. Then I will list the people connected with hospital food. Thirdly, there will brief paragraphs about the key elements of the formula and the people. Finally I will call on the people to come together and use the Formula to improve food for patients at the RDE Hospital. It can be done.

THE JAMES MARTIN FORMULA to improve hospital food.
I think there are eight key elements to the formula which are:-

Profitable public restaurant
Hospital restaurant serves same food as patients eat
A kitchen
Motivated catering staff
Use/make healthy food that patients, staff & visitors enjoy eating
Limit menu to a weekly cycle
Good procurement
Reduce waste

Change cannot happen without PEOPLE. Who are the people who together can improve hospital food. Here's my suggestion:-
Hospital management
Catering Managers and staff
Nursing and other ward staff
The patients
The public in the hospital catchment area
Local businesses connected with food

James' Hospital Food Blueprint (1) is a resource to draw on.
"After working with the catering teams in a number of hospitals for my series Operation Hospital Food, I began to realise that although no two hospitals – or the challenges they face - are the same, there is still a core set of factors which most will typically have in common."

At the RDE the starting point probably is the Oasis Restaurant. Is it profitable? Does it serve economical, healthy, nourishing enjoyable food? There is a kitchen (according to the Hospital's website). It probably serves the Oasis, but can it also be used to improve patient food?

"A prime example of this was at the Royal Free in London, where we introduced freshly made soups and salads to compliment their cook-chill system. The soups and salads go up to the wards and are also sold in the restaurant helping to turn a profit. It was a bit more work for the kitchen, but no extra cost – and the feedback from the patients and staff was well worth it!"

Having a weekly menu and ensuring procurement is right maybe what keeps the catering services within budget. Again James Martin offers advice, and a reminder, "One of the most complicated issues I’ve faced while working within the NHS is the procurement process - where and who you can buy food from. Every hospital will have an ‘Approved Supplier List’, which has had the appropriate checks and certificates to be able to supply the NHS.
The problem is that in my experience these suppliers don’t always offer the best prices or quality of product. Also, food could be coming from all over the country – sometimes the world!

Involving local business can improve the quality of food and boost the local economy.

'Change? No, not more change'. Maybe a thought some at the Hospital may have initially when they first hear about the desire to improve food for patients at the RDE.

But take heart, David Sloman of the Royal Free Hospital, London is quoted (2) as saying, "It also united our workforce, bringing together multi-disciplinary professionals from the ward, nursing teams and matrons, dieticians, speech and language therapists, facilities team and caterers who were determined to make this work. Our patients are delighted with the options and now regard the menu items as much tastier and easier on the palate."

The starting point is to ask the Hospital to engage with a group representing patients and public living in the RDE Hospital's catchment area, who are supporting Improve Hospital Food.

The RDE is an NHS Foundation Trust. There is an extract from their website in Appendix 1 below. Local people, patients and staff can apply to be members of the Trust and elect the Governors. Perhaps those supporting Improve Hospital Food can raise the issue with their area Governor.

Operation Hospital Food shows the lengths James Martin went to to engage Mangers, chefs and other staff. But he did achieve some good results. But with the support of the local people and co-operation of management, together we can improve hospital food. It will not be achieved overnight, but it can and will be done.

All hospital food has to be approved by dieticians. On Hospital Food Blueprint (1) are recipes that have been approved by Members of the British Dietetic Association.

Thank you for reading this

Please support  The Campaign to Improve Hospital Food

From the hospital website accessed 26/3/15

"4. So what is different about being an NHS Foundation Trust?

Local people, patients and staff can become members of the RD&E NHS Foundation Trust and elect their representatives to the council of governors who are expected to hold the board of directors to account for their performance.

Organisations such Clinical Commissioning Groups (which have taken over from Primary Care Trusts) and local authorities also have representatives on the council of governors, but the majority of the governors are elected from among local people.

The council of governors works with the board of directors (Executive and Non-executive) advising on forward plans and helping to develop the strategy for the NHSFT that best suits the needs of local people.

5. What are the benefits to patients?

NHS Foundation Trusts have much greater scope to improve local services and respond to local needs and priorities. Members and governors can directly represent the views of local people on these matters."


(1) James Martin's Hospital Blueprint

(2) James Martin - cook-chill-freeze

Unless otherwise attributed, all quotes above in italics are by James Martin.
March '15