Sunday, August 16, 2009


Red News Readers,

Make no mistake. The privatisation of food services in public hospitals is not going to contribute to improving the quality of a patient’s care or cuisine while in hospital. It will only add to the chaos.

Hospital food has to be available on a round the clock basis 365 days a year. Patients do not present for their meal neatly at meal times, particularly in the current system. Food that meets all sorts of dietary needs, tastes, and requirements has to be available on this round the clock basis eg for new admissions, patients eating late or early due to diagnostic and surgical procedures being done during the day, patients recovering from abdominal disorders, diabetic patients.

Food in hospital is not always a plate of meat and three vegs. It can be liquid food that is fed through a tube. Patients of Asian origin need Asian food. How many contractors are going to be willing to provide these services at a cost that is less than what it costs now? Especially without cutting corners on quality and safety?

Privatisation of food services in public hospitals is a bad idea and Rees and Della Bosca should drop it once and for all.

Jenny Haines

New food on the table for public hospitals

Julie Robotham Medical Editor

August 12, 2009

NSW Health is looking to privatise food service across the state, with a single external company responsible for providing all food to public hospitals one option under consideration.

NSW Health chief executive Debora Picone acknowledged full privatisation was an option, as the department scrutunises food service for possible efficiencies.

''There is no question at all that I am looking at the whole food service issue,'' Professor Picone said.

Professor Picone pointed out that contractors were used to supply meals in many areas already, but acknowledged any more general state-wide contract would be an escalation of the move towards outsourcing hospital food, which has already alarmed nutritionists.

It would go far beyond plans announced earlier this year to bulk-purchase pre-packaged or frozen meals direct from factories.

Professor Picone would not comment on when any plan might be finalised and said one complexity was negotiating with relevant unions. ''I haven't made any decision and it will be made on a whole range of economic and quality [measures],'' she said.

Other sources said the plan was already well advanced and had been briefed to senior area health service managers, though meals for people with special dietary requirements might still be produced directly by NSW Health staff under the proposal.

Already the department has begun centralising responsibility for meals away from hospital and regional management and into a new statewide Health Support Services unit increasingly charged with corporate functions across NSW. In its last annual report, the department stated as a priority for this year, the ''transitioning of food services to Health Support Services to be managed as a statewide business unit''. That move would ease the way for any privatisation.

The Health Services Union organiser, Adam Hall, said, ''3000 jobs will be lost if the health department is to give this the go-ahead''. Mr Hall said centralising food inevitably would limit patients' food choices and was particularly inappropriate for hospitalised children, whose condition and appetite could change swiftly.

He also expressed concern the move would lead to increased transportation costs and result in wastage of food and packaging.

A spokeswoman for NSW Health said the department produced about 22 million meals a year, at a cost of up to $250 million.

After adverse comments about food standards received by Peter Garling in his review earlier this year of NSW public hospitals, the department had set up a nutrition and food governance committee under the NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, ''to ensure that a nutritionally appropriate, safe, equitable and cost-effective food service is delivered to NSW Health public hospitals''.

''Any consideration to a change in service delivery will be informed by a thorough consultation process with the union and staff, and reflect a commitment to improved quality and service for patients,'' the spokeswoman said.

Mr Garling heard half of patients were malnourished and most elderly patients could not open meal packages - compromising their recovery and lengthening their hospital stay.