Scottish hospitals throwing away millions of pounds of food

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By Cara Sulieman

HOSPITALS in Scotland have thrown away a £6 million mountain of food in the last two years.

Averaging £3 million a year; NHS Boards in Scotland are literally throwing money down the drain as they waste hundreds of thousands of meals a year.

The 14 health boards throw out over 400,000 meals between them annually.

But the figure could be much more – with only five boards able to provide accurate numbers to FOI investigators.

The Taxpayer’s Alliance have branded the amounts “disturbing” and said that whilst some waste is expected, hospitals should do everything they can to reduce the amounts or recycle food that isn’t used.

“Very seriously”

NHS Grampian is the worst offender, with the equivalent of 10 per cent of their annual meal costs thrown away.

They estimate that £300,000 worth of uneaten grub is binned every year but were unable to give exact numbers of discarded meals.

A spokeswoman for the Grampian Health Board said that their percentage is so high because they measure wastage from partially eaten meals as well as untouched meals.

And she went on to say explain that NHS Grampian offers patients a choice of four main courses which they choose at meal time rather than pre-ordering.

The spokeswoman said: “The Catering Management Team takes food wastage very seriously, and is constantly striving, with the assistance of nursing staff, to keep wastage to an absolute minimum.

“NHS Grampian monitors on a regular basis, the total food wastage, not simply meals which were not eaten.

“Waste can occur because a patient is not feeling well, treatment may affect their appetite, they may be taken for or treatment during a mealtime, or may have been discharged just prior to a mealtime.

“Additionally, a large percentage of NHS Grampian’s patients are elderly, and appetites can be limited and variable. Nursing practice is to encourage patients to have a small amount of food as a minimum.”

“High quality”

The board also said that they are trialing new systems to try and minimise waste – mainly involving better communication between nurses and the catering staff.

On the other hand, NHS Ayrshire and Arran is one of the best performers, along with NHS Forth Valley.

They both waste just 1.6 per cent of hospital food a year.

This equates to around £80,000 per year for Ayrshire and Arran and £70,000 for Forth Valley.

John Wright, Director of Information and Clinical Support Services at NHS Ayrshire and Arran said that they had simple systems in place to make sure as little food was wasted as possible.

He said: “We are committed to providing the most nutritious, high quality meals for our patients, while ensuring that we keep waste to a minimum.

“The results of a recent patient satisfaction survey showed that 93 per cent of our patients were happy with the meals provided.

“We ask patients to order their meals one meal in advance, for example, at breakfast they will order lunch. This ensures we keep waste to a minimum.

“All our meals are cooked on site, instead of bulk buying from an external company, so we have a better projection of the number of meals we need.”

“Unacceptable”

Mark Wallace of the Taxpayer’s Alliance said: “Obviously some waste us unavoidable particularly given the fact that hospitals deal with ill people by definition.

“However, the fact that so much food is being thrown away is disturbing and represents a serious financial drain.

“NHS Boards should look into ways of perhaps recycling some of this food waste, maybe even for local allotments and that kind of thing.

“If they can reduce the waste bill and perhaps recoup the costs by selling some of it on.”

Scottish Labour Health Spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said:  “I am very concerned to see such a high level of waste. In the current economic circumstances it is simply unacceptable to see so much money literally thrown away.

“The Scottish Government need to take action to understand why patients are not eating hospital food. In particular, I want to see steps taken to make meals more appetising. “

Health Facilities Scotland demands that hospitals keep their wastage below 10 per cent – which every health board in Scotland has achieved.

“Value for money”

But this still equates to huge amounts of money being tossed away, something the Government warned they had to be mindful of.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We expect NHS Boards to take necessary steps to reduce food waste wherever possible.

“This is a key part of Food in Hospitals, NHS Scotland’s national nutrition standards.

“It is for Boards to decide how they allocate budgets but we would always expect them to make decisions based on the best possible value for money while meeting the care needs of patients.”

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