Food is travelling at least 80 miles from Darlington to patients at Bridlington Hospital after its kitchens closed last week.
And the York NHS Foundation Trust has admitted it has had “teething problems” with the new service after reports that patients on Waters Ward had not received food, and cold meals had been served to staff and visitors.
When the Trust announced its proposals in October to end freshly cooked meals at Bridlington’s kitchens after 25 years, its plan was to bus in cook/chill meals from York Hospital’s main kitchen site to be heated in Bridlington.
Union officials warned at the time that the York kitchen would need upgrading before meals could be delivered to Bridlington.
Now the Trust has made a deal with the County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust to have the meals delivered from Darlington - more than 80 miles away by the shortest route.
A spokesperson for the York Trust said: “The change of meal service implemented last week at Bridlington Hospital is going well and we have received a number of positive comments about the quality of the food from both patients and staff.
“As with any change in service, there were a couple of minor teething problems in the first two days however these are now fully resolved.
“The plan to offer cook-chill meals from York Hospital has not changed. The catering department at York is currently undergoing a refurbishment, so the decision was made to use cook-chill meals from another NHS Trust as an interim arrangement until the completion of this work.
“County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust is a high quality NHS inhouse caterer, with all the relevant due diligence in place.
“It prides itself on the quality of its food which is why the decision was made to use their service rather than a private contractor.”
Terry Cunliffe, of the Unite Union, said: “We warned the Trust at the time that the kitchen at York would need upgrading, and we received quite a scathing reply telling us that the Trust knew what they were doing.
“Unfortunately their plans were, and still are, flawed and unless the Trust address our legitimate concerns this problem will reoccur.
“I share with patients and their families distress at these problems, as well as with Unite members who have been made redundant.
“Unfortunately the rush to make financial savings seems to be more important than ensuring patients experience of Healthcare.
“I stand by what I said in my letter to the Trust that the people running this organisation appear to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Unfortunately it is patients who pay the price.”
Alex Jackson, Co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food said: “Closing the kitchens at Bridlington Hospital is bad news for the caterers who work there and for local suppliers who will no longer be able to sell them fresh produce.
“It’s also bad news for patients and makes no financial sense, because fresh food cooked in a hospital’s own kitchen is often more popular with patients and cheaper to make.”
In 2012, a healthy new menu created by celebrity chef James Martin was rolled out at Bridlington Hospital.
James Martin had ushered in the changes after working with Scarborough Hospital on Operation Hospital Food, a week-long series for BBC1, which aired in 2011 and aimed to bring healthy, but budget conscious food to hospital patients, staff and visitors.
Mr Martin told the Free Press that he would “keep a close eye” on the situation at Bridlington and said: “We have proved that it is possible for hospitals to provide better, nutritious food at no extra cost.
“Any change would mean a lot less quality and less choice for the patients and staff at Bridlington.”
The proposals to close the kitchens at Bridlington Hospital included eleven catering assistant roles reduced to three, and only one of the six chef’s roles survive.
All of the catering assistants have now been redeployed within the organisation into alternative roles, and following redundancy four chefs have left the Trust.
Patient meals, which total around 120 a day, are now provided using the cook/chill method with meals being cooked and then transported to Bridlington to be reheated and served to patients.
The dining room - for the staff, public and the 110 patients using the hospital at any one time - will open 12pm and 2pm, Monday to Friday, under the plans.
The Trust’s consultation document said that the decision was taken after reviewing sustainable service delivery and taking into account their Cost Improvement Plan.
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