Fresh meals under threat at Luton hospital

Fresh cooked meals prepared on site may soon become a thing of the past for patients at Luton and Dunstable hospital, warns UNISON, as the trust is soon set to hand its catering, cleaning and housekeeper services over to a private company.

At the moment, all patient meals are prepared fresh by a dedicated team of chefs – but the trust plans to outsource this service to a company that will provide meals prepared off-site and then shipped to the hospital and heated up in a process known as ‘cook-chill’.

The contract private companies are currently bidding for will also include the domestic and cleaning services. The current in-house cleaning team scored at 99.41% in a 2013 audit, among the top 25% in the country.

UNISON says the outsourcing of these services will only lead to reduced quality as private companies try and make a profit from the contract.

“With TV chef James Martin and campaign groups such as The Campaign for Better Hospital Food encouraging more hospitals to prepare patient meals from scratch, using locally-sourced ingredients, this seems like a huge step backwards for Luton and Dunstable hospital,” said union regional organiser Cheryl Godber.

“We all know that good, fresh food is an important part of recovery.

“So to move to an inflexible cook-chill service when you are already producing quality food on site seems incredibly short sighted – once they lose the ability to prepare all the meals on site, it’ll be really difficult to get these services back.”

She was backed by Alex Jackson of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, who warned that “buying microwave meals is often more expensive for shoppers than cooking from scratch.

“For similar reasons, our research shows that shutting kitchens costs hospitals more money in the long-run. 

“No one wins from this proposal.”

Ms Godber added that outsourcing cleaning would also be “ill considered”.

“The trust currently has an excellent service, which can only get worse if a profit-making private company take on the contract,” she warned.

“These companies look to employ fewer staff on worse terms and conditions in order to make a profit.

“People should be asking themselves, is this going to improve an already excellent service? Such high standards are essential to protect patients from risks such as MRSA and c.diff.

“You only have to look at the recent issues that was reported last month with G4S cleaning the Lister Hospital for an example of how these kind of contracts can fail to meet expected standards.”

UNISON Eastern region head of health Tracey Lambert noted that the trust says it has “to attract private companies who will invest in these services as they themselves have neglected to do so in the past.”

But she said the union has seen no “compelling evidence” to suggest the move would either produce real saving or improve to services.

“For this reason,” added Ms Lambert, “several of the unions at the hospital have raised a dispute with the trust.”

UNISON has commissioned a report on the trust’s proposals and will be sending this to the trust board.

“Now is the time for patients, relatives, staff and the wider community to call for the board to ensure that it continues to provide the very best service it can, an in-house catering and domestic services with a proven track record,” said Ms Lambert.

UNISON in health

UNISON Eastern region