Olivia’s Story

As hospital caterers we firmly believe that ‘food is the best form of medicine’ but uneaten food has no nutritional value at all. It is vitally important that good communications exist between ward staff, clinicians and the catering department, which is why we are such strong supporters of ‘The Power of 3’.

The story below is a classic example of what can go wrong if we do not all pull together, and most importantly, listen to the patient. Let Olivia take up her own story:

“I’m contacting you because I am very concerned about the provision of suitable food for patients while they are in hospital, and particularly when recovering from an operation. I am a vegetarian, diabetic with a low tolerance to wheat and eggs. I am 79 years old and have undergone 5 operations during the last 4 years: 3 were day only and 2 as an in-patient.

The first one was an enucleation of my right eye which resulted in a severe haemorrhage and consequently I was compelled to stay in hospital longer than expected. The day after my operation I was offered a ‘dollop’ of cottage pie and I apologised to the nurse and informed her that I couldn’t eat because I was a vegetarian. “I’ll get you some roast pork”, she said.

I was offered very little suitable food over the next few days and discharged myself shortly after as I had a freezer full of suitable meals at home which I had previously prepared. During my stay in hospital I lost 11lbs in weight.

I did write to the chief executive regarding my difficulty but I made it more of a comment rather than a complaint. I did receive an acknowledgement.

The second operation was in June this year when I entered a different hospital to have my gall bladder removed. Once I was in the Theatre the surgeon found several adhesions; one of which was my gall bladder stuck to my liver, obviously this entailed more surgery than expected and consequently I was decidedly weakened. Once again I had the problem of the lack of suitable food.

All the nursing staff were aware of these issues but no one followed this through to the catering manager. There would be a choice of several wheat cereals but no muesli at breakfast and several choices for meat eaters at lunchtime with cheese and tomato pizza for me or sandwiches. As wheat makes my stomach swell it was the last thing I needed after my operation. Several times I did request a visit from the dietitian but no one came to enquire what my problem was.

Once again I asked to leave earlier in order to get home to eat as I was very weak and listless. At one time I almost gave up trying to get better. It would have been easier to die. However, my fighting spirit re-emerged and once I returned home I gradually gained weight, having lost another 8lbs whilst I was in hospital.

I feel so strongly about this and I want to try and get the situation resolved to prevent any person dying unnecessarily.”

Hospital caterers play a critical role in the wellbeing of patients and as you will have seen above, suitable food helped Olivia get back on her feet again. If the correct food had been supplied at the appropriate times, Olivia would have recovered quicker, been discharged earlier and released the bed for another patient.

Power of 3

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