With hundreds of patients needing varying levels of medical care, hospitals need to be run like clockwork.
And behind the doctors, nurses, surgeons and clinicians, there is a team ensuring all the patients are well fed throughout the day with nutritious food.
The staff at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham make more than 218,400 portions of homemade soup a year and use almost 300,000kg of vegetables.
With the help of a dietician the meals are full of vitamins and nutrients to help patients on the road of their recovery.
Overseeing the catering team are Eddie Maggs and Steve Jones. They ensure food is hot when it reaches the patients and that there is variety to please all.
Most of the food at QA Hospital is provided by Tillery Valley Foods rather than cooked on-site.
But for Steve, this works better. He says: ‘Having the food made and then delivered is a massive improvement.
‘When you have chefs making food, each person has their own take.
‘They might add a little bit of this or put less of something else in so we don’t actually know what nutritional information it has.
‘We don’t get that consistency. But getting it from Tillery means we know exactly what is going into it. We do make our own soup on-site though.’
QA Hospital receives four deliveries a week of chilled food for its lunches and dinners.
Lunch is served at midday or 12.30pm while dinner is served a few hours later at 5.30pm and 6pm. Snack bags with sandwiches, yoghurts and fruit are handed out to patients who miss mealtimes.
Before the food is due to be served, it is cooked in ‘regeneration’ ovens. They keep the food hot, retaining it at the correct temperature until it is ready to be given to patients.
Eddie says: ‘We have a really good system in place which allows us to feed all the patients in the hospital.
‘We have people who prepare the food on to the dollies in the amounts that we think we need.
‘The trays can then be easily transferred into the regeneration ovens to be heated while the food is being taken to the wards.
‘We have two regeneration ovens for every two wards so feeding people is quicker and easier.’
For Dr Denise Thomas, head of dietetics, this way of preparing food gives it a more home-made feel.
‘Because the food is heated at ward level, you get the delicious smell of cooking food,’ she says.
‘Before, it would almost be that school cafeteria smell but now on the wards it smells really good when the food arrives.
‘It is good in that respect and helps build up the patients’ appetites.’
Steve is keen to dispel any doubts that hospital food is not tasty.
He says all the cereals they get in are brand names as are the yoghurts and custards for the dessert.
‘We aren’t using cheap products,’ he says. We have Muller, Kellogg’s, Hovis and Ambrosia. We recently changed sandwich companies as we weren’t getting very good feedback and the new providers are very good.
‘Generally, the response we get from patients about the food is very good.
‘We get the staff to taste it as well as people from outside the hospital as we want to make sure what we are ordering is up to scratch.
‘If there is a meal which isn’t what we thought it would be, we have no problems ringing Tillery Valley and telling them.
‘For us, it is important to get good quality food and we are happy changing the menu to ensure that.’
The menu is changed every few months with favourites remaining and others getting swapped out.
They have a two-week rota with a selection of meals from mild chicken curry with rice to lamb moussaka.
They offer creamed potato, potato wedges or potato salad as well as green beans, cauliflower or carrots.
Desserts are available with each meal from vanilla ice cream to banoffee pie.
Each menu also has a dietary code saying whether it is suitable for people with diabetes, vegetarians, is high in calories, healthier or good for weight reducing.
Separate menus are also available for children and the elderly.
Denise adds: ‘Sometimes, if we have elderly people in we need to give them food that has a lot of calories.
‘They don’t have to eat often but they are still getting a good number of calories.
‘Some of the desserts are good because they are a small portion but high in calories – they are important for people prone to losing weight while in hospital.’
Thanks to the simplicity of the regeneration ovens, the hospital is able to hand out food to 50 patients in just 20 minutes.
It aims to feed everyone at about the same time. Eddie says: ‘The is a lot of collaboration between the clinical team and the staff that serve the food.
‘We want to make sure patients are getting their meals and that if they miss one, they still get a snack bag.
‘It is a big operation but we manage to work smoothly.’
When I put hospital’s food to the test...
When I was invited to try the food on offer at Queen Alexandra Hospital I was intrigued.
I have never had a stay in hospital so did not know what to expect when it came to the meals.
You often hear about food in hospitals being below par and the shop on the ground floor at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham is busy.
But when I saw the range on offer and how good it smelled, I was interested to have a try.
The food was part of the meals brought in and was heated in the regeneration oven like it would be for patients.
The first thing I noticed was how hot the meals were. I was warned but still ended up burning my mouth on the cauliflower cheese.
After the heat, the food was really good. The cauliflower cheese was creamy and the wedges I tried were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
The soup was full of flavour and the quiche was as good as one you would buy in the shop.
But the stand-out for me were the desserts. The clotted cream vanilla ice-cream was one of the best ice creams I have ever had.
The banoffee pie was delicious and just the right portion size.
I was impressed with the variety, which considering the hospital has hundreds of people to feed, probably makes it harder for the staff.
But the processes they have in place all make sense to ensuring that patients are well-fed with tasty meals.