Column published in Llanelli Herald on March 24th 2017
“Do you like powdered egg” I asked Wales’s Chief Nurse when she gave evidence to the Assembly’s powerful Public Accounts Committee?
This miserable sounding dish was one of the examples given to me on my Facebook page of the food that’s served up in hospitals - in this case Glangwyli.
Her answer wasn’t very convincing. “It depends what's in it”, she replied. My suggestion was to serve it up in the Welsh Government’s office and in the Assembly canteen and see what they made of it.
It wasn’t a flippant suggestion. But she didn’t seem keen.
The exchange came about because I was genuinely angry about a report I’d read which said that one in three patients found hospital meals unappetising, and as a result a Million pounds worth of food is thrown away uneaten every year. If patients miss a meal they are not always offered a replacement, and not all patients are offered snacks - even when they are advised to eat them.
It may not be the most glamorous of subjects but I think that the quality of the ‘patient experience’ is often overlooked in favour of measuring what are referred to as ‘outputs’ - for example, the number of operations carried out, or prescriptions issued.
I don’t think enough attention is paid to the customer service side of the way people interact with the NHS - things like how people communicate with the NHS and get information. And the quality of the food we get in hospitals is an important part of a patient's experience of their care, but as our enquiry found it is not something that the leadership of the NHS keeps a close eye on.
The cross-party report I helped write says there’s a lack of leadership in tackling the issues that were first raised over 5 years ago. And because of delays in bringing in new systems, almost a decade will have passed before these matters are resolved and patients receive efficient and effective meal services that provide the basics of appetising and nutritious food and water to remain hydrated.
The report is a tough one and is designed to send a signal to NHS bosses that the situations needs to change, and we’ll be returning to the issue soon to check that they are dealing with it.
Even though I’m criticising my own Government I said when I was elected last years that I would not hesitate to speak out on behalf of the people I represent. But I didn’t think that would include the quality of puddings served in hospitals!