Prue Leith Is Here To Make Our 'Unpalatable' Hospital Food Nicer

"A hospital meal should be a small highlight, a little pleasure and comfort," says the chef.

Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith will advise a government review into hospital food to improve the state of dishes on offer. It follows the deaths of six people due to a listeria outbreak in hospitals.

A review launched by the Department of Health and Social Care on Friday will examine whether the number of hospitals catering in-house can be increased.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for the comprehensive review in June after six people died after contracting listeria from pre-packaged sandwiches and salads either purchased on site or given out by hospital staff.

The review will also consider whether kitchen facilities can be changed to bring more chefs into hospitals as well as using less frozen food and sourcing local fresh produce where possible.

Leith has previously criticised the current standard of hospital meals and called for NHS trusts to make appealing and nutritious food on-site for patients.

She said: “Millions of pounds are wasted in hospitals with food ending up in the bin, unpalatable food being the main complaint. I’m delighted that, at long last, Downing Street and the Department of Health have decided to do something about it.

“A hospital meal should be a small highlight, a little pleasure and comfort, and it should help, not hinder, the patient’s recovery.”

The review will examine the quality of the estimated 140 million meals provided to patients each year, as well as staff meals.

The review was announced as a former health chief blamed “systematic failures” in public health for 17 deaths linked to separate outbreaks of listeria and streptococcus earlier this year.

In July, NHS Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group confirmed 13 people had died in an outbreak of invasive Group A streptococcus.

Writing in the Journal Of The Royal Society Of Medicine on Friday, Professor John Ashton, former north-west regional director of public health, warned that years of austerity and cuts to local authority budgets had stripped the ability of environmental health departments to keep up with threats.

The review will be chaired by the former head of the Hospital Caterers Association and catering lead for Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Philip Shelley. Hospital caterers, patient groups and kitchen staff will also be involved in the review.

Leith is not the first celebrity to show an interest in improving hospital meals, and is not the first to advise the Government on the matter.

Almost 25 years ago, top chef Albert Roux helped promote new guidelines on hospital food with the Nutrition Task Force, which was a panel of experts set up in 1992 as part of the government’s Health Of The Nation initiative to draw up an action plan to achieve dietary targets.

MasterChef presenter Loyd Grossman advised the Government on hospital food standards too and backed a campaign in 2013 which said that hospital meals should have compulsory nutritional standards.

He was recruited by the NHS in 2001 as part of the Better Hospital Food Initiative, aimed at improving menus for patients. The programme ran until 2006.

In 2011, celebrity chef James Martin said, after helping to reinvigorate the staff and menus at Scarborough General Hospital in North Yorkshire, that he was looking to work with six others in 2012. He spent 12 weeks working with catering staff from Scarborough General and his efforts were featured in a BBC programme.

In 2010, Heston Blumenthal also hoped to revolutionise hospital meals when he collaborated with the University of Reading and the Royal Berkshire Hospital to increase the flavour of well-loved dishes such as shepherd’s pie and make them more attractive to older people, whose sense of taste often deteriorates.

As part of the project, researchers visited his restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, to watch Blumenthal at work and see how his ideas could be transferred to hospital kitchens.